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LATIN AMERICA | 19-05-2020 14:24

Brazil jumps to third highest tally of Covid-19 cases worldwide

Brazil has also registered 16,792 Covid-19 deaths, the sixth-highest toll in the world. Experts say under-testing means the real figure could be 15 times higher or more.

Brazil has the third-highest number of novel coronavirus cases in the world, according to official figures released Monday, a troubling surge for a country struggling to respond to the pandemic.

With 254,220 confirmed cases, Brazil has now surpassed Britain, Spain and Italy in the past 72 hours on the list of total infections, and is behind only the United States (1.5 million) and Russia (290,000).

Brazil has registered 16,792 Covid-19 deaths, the sixth-highest toll in the world. But experts say under-testing means the real figures could be 15 times higher or more.

Argentina's giant neighbour of 210 million people is torn by a political battle over how to respond to the virus.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro compares the virus to a "little flu," condemns the "hysteria" surrounding it and is urging the country to get back to work to stop an economic crash.

State and local authorities, however, are largely calling on citizens to stay home and practice social distancing – backed by the Supreme Court, which gave them the final say in the matter.

Bolsonaro is now seeking his third health minister since the pandemic began. He fired the first after publicly battling over stay-at-home measures, and the second resigned last week after less than a month on the job, reportedly over the president's insistence on widespread use of the controversial and unproven malaria drug chloroquine to treat the disease.

Hospitals in several areas are meanwhile operating close to full capacity, and the hardest-hit cities have begun burying victims in mass graves, even as the number of infections continues to soar.

Indigenous tribe 'facing genocide'

An indigenous group in Brazil that traditionally has no contact with the outside world is suffering a "genocide" because of illegal loggers' encroachment on their land, a rights group said Monday.

The Awa Guaja, a hunter-gatherer tribe of around 400 people in the Amazon rainforest, has lost huge tracts of land to deforestation in recent years, making them struggle to find food, said a statement from the indigenous rights group Forest Guardians.

"If you don't put an end to the invasions of our territory, the uncontacted Awa Guaja people will die," the group's coordinator, Olimpio Guajajara, said in a statement.

"We are warning the Brazilian government and the international community that the Awa Guaja people are currently suffering a genocide."

The Forest Guardians were launched in 2012 in northeastern Brazil to stop illegal loggers and miners from operating on indigenous lands. Several of its members have been murdered in recent months.

The Forest Guardians said deforestation is forcing the Awa Guaja to venture ever closer to other groups' villages, sometimes leading to conflict.

On Saturday, a man from the Guajajara indigenous group was shot in the chest with an arrow, possibly by Awa Guaja who had been seen in the area.

The man is in stable condition, but the unprecedented incident left the Forest Guardians "very worried," said the statement.

Illegal loggers "use violence when they come across indigenous people and it's possible that this has happened and made the Awa angry and on alert for their survival," it said.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged under Bolsonaro, who wants to open protected lands to farming and mining. 

The new coronavirus has meanwhile added to concerns about indigenous groups in the Amazon, since they have a tragic history of being decimated by diseases arriving from the outside world.

The virus has now infected 40 indigenous groups, with 537 positive cases and 102 deaths, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples' Association.

Brazil has an estimated 800,000 indigenous people from 300 ethnic groups.

– TIMES/AFP

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