People wearing protective masks observe to the graves with the remains of their relatives during a mass burial of coronavirus victims – Getty Images South America
Brazil on Friday overtook the UK to claim the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, behind the United States.
The country’s health ministry recorded 909 deaths in the past 24 hours, putting the total at 41,828, ahead of the UK’s 41,481.
Unlike the UK, Latin America’s biggest economy remains far off flattening its coronavirus infection curve, with experts warning a peak of daily deaths may not arrive until August.
Observers believe the actual number of cases in Brazil could be far higher than the confirmed figure of 828,810.
Gravediggers are working 12-hour shifts in a race to keep up with the toll, while images showing lines upon lines of empty graves waiting to be filled have shocked the world.
Newly dug, empty graves fill the Sao Luiz cemetery where Covid-19 victims will be buried in Sao Paulo, Brazil – AP
Sao Paulo was forced to exhume the bones of people buried in the past and store their remains in metal containers to free up space in its graveyards.
As Britain’s daily coronavirus death toll falls, with below 100 recorded last week for the first time since the start of lockdown, Brazil’s continues to hit the high hundreds.
Yet President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the coronavirus as a “little flu,” and berated state officials for imposing lockdowns.
The far-right leader’s opposition to lockdown and his downplaying of the virus has proved divisive in a nation already struggling with political dissent.
Critics slammed Mr Bolsonaro on Friday after he called on supporters to film videos inside their local hospitals to prove they have not been overwhelmed by the pandemic.
Mr Bolsonaro urged his backers to “find a way to get inside and film” to see whether intensive care units are in fact struggling, as has been widely reported.
“Lots of people are doing that already, but more people need to,” he told viewers on Thursday during his weekly live address on Facebook.
“The information we have – I could be wrong, but… no one has died due to a lack of ventilators or intensive care beds. Maybe one case here or there.”
According to official figures, intensive care units in numerous states across Brazil have registered occupancy rates of more than 95 per cent during the pandemic.
A man in a protective suit is pictured after burying a relative who died of Covid-19 on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa – AFP
“Some areas are at a critical stage” in Brazil, World Health Organization emergencies director Mike Ryan told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
Even as the virus has surged, states and cities across Brazil have begun to ease restrictive measures introduced more than two months ago.
Meanwhile, shops and malls are being allowed to open for four hours a day in Sao Paulo, the epicenter of Brazil’s crisis. Stores have been crowded in smaller cities.
Latin America is the latest epicenter in the world’s battle with the novel coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year.