President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization on Friday after the U.S. agency warned the Latin American government of the risk of lifting blocks before the spread of the novel corona virus slowed across the region.
A new Brazilian record for daily COVID-19 deaths has pushed the county's deaths past Italy's late Thursday, but Bolsonaro continues to plead for the government's isolation orders to be lifted quickly, arguing that economic costs are at risk for the public health outweigh.
The most populous nations of Latin America, Brazil and Mexico, have the highest rates of new infections, although the pandemic is also gaining momentum in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia.
In total, more than 1.1 million Latin Americans are infected. While most leaders have taken the pandemic more seriously than Bolsonaro, some politicians who advocated severe barriers in March and April are pushing to reopen economies as hunger and poverty increase.
In a leading article on the front page of the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, the Brazilian daily emphasized that only 100 days have passed since Bolsonaro called the virus, which now "kills one Brazilian per minute" "small flu".
"As you read this, another Brazilian died of the corona virus," the newspaper said.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health reported late Thursday that confirmed cases in the country have surpassed 600,000 and 1,437 deaths have been recorded within 24 hours, the third daily record in a row.
Brazil reported another 1,005 deaths on Friday evening, while Mexico reported 625 more deaths.
With more than 35,000 fatalities, the pandemic in Brazil has killed more people than anywhere outside the United States and the United Kingdom.
World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris asked about efforts to ease social distance orders in Brazil despite increasing daily mortality rates and diagnoses, and said a key criterion for lifting bans was slowdown in transmission.
"The epidemic, the outbreak in Latin America, is deeply worrying," she said at a press conference in Geneva. Among six main criteria for quarantine relaxation, she said, "Ideally, one of them is that your transmission will decrease."
In comments to journalists later on Friday, Bolsonaro said Brazil would consider leaving WHO unless it was no longer a "partisan organization".
President Donald Trump, an ideological ally of Bolsonaro, said last month that the United States would end its own relationship with the WHO and accused it of becoming a puppet of China, where the corona virus first appeared.
Bolsonaro's rejection of coronavirus risks to public health and efforts to lift state quarantines have generated criticism from across the political spectrum in Brazil, where some accuse him of using the crisis to undermine democratic institutions.
However, many of these critics disagree about the security and effectiveness of anti-government demonstrations in the middle of a pandemic, especially after a small protest last weekend was faced with an overwhelming demonstration by police forces.
Alfonso Vallejos Parás, epidemiologist and professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said that infections are high in Latin America as the virus is slow to gain a foothold in the region.
"It is difficult to estimate when the rate of infection will slow down," he said.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)