(BBC)-Brazil has reported more than 1,000 deaths in a single day from Coronavirus for the first time amid warnings the outbreak is weeks away from its peak.
The country has 271,628 confirmed cases but the true number is likely to be higher because of insufficient testing.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the risks of Covid-19.
On Tuesday he again defended use of the unproven drug chloroquine as a remedy, despite alerts it may be unsafe.
Mr Bolsonaro’s repeated defiance of public health expert advice on Covid-19 has led to the resignation of two trained doctors as health minister in the past month.
There is concern about the rapid spread of the virus in poor areas and indigenous communities which are more vulnerable to disease.
What is the situation in Brazil?
The number of confirmed cases is fewer only than in the US and Russia and is expected to rise even further as the outbreak is still weeks away from its peak, health experts say. On Tuesday, the country’s health ministry confirmed 1,179 new deaths, taking the total to 17,971.
In São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city with about 12 million residents and one of the hardest-hit places, a five-day holiday started on Wednesday in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Earlier this week Mayor Bruno Covas warned the health system could collapse in two weeks, and accused those who flouted lockdown rules of playing “Russian roulette” with people’s lives.
In an interview broadcast on Facebook, Mr Bolsonaro said Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello – an active-duty army general – would issue new guidelines on Wednesday expanding the recommended use of the anti-malarial drug chloroquine in the treatment to Covid-19.
So far, there is insufficient evidence from medical trials that chloroquine – and a related drug hydroxychloroquine – is effective to either prevent or treat the virus. There are also risks of serious side effects, including renal and liver damage.
“What’s democracy? If you don’t want it, you don’t do it. You’re not forced to take chloroquine,” President Bolsonaro said. “Those who are on the right take chloroquine. Those on the left take Tubaína,” he joked, referring to a popular soft drink. The president did not comment on the deaths.
Divisions over the use of chloroquine were reportedly the main reason behind the resignation of Nelson Teich as health minister last week. Mr Teich’s predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, was sacked by President Bolsonaro after they disagreed over social-distancing measures.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump, who Mr Bolsonaro has previously described as his “idol”, told reporters he was considering a travel ban from Brazil.
“I don’t want people coming over here and infecting our people. I don’t want people over there sick either. We’re helping Brazil with ventilators… Brazil is having some trouble, no question about it,” Mr Trump said on Tuesday, a day after announcing he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive.