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Brazil's COVID-19 death toll surpasses 90,000

Pictures of medical workers taken by Brazilian photographer Thiago Santos at posted in a Sao Paulo subway station amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Pictures of medical workers taken by Brazilian photographer Thiago Santos at posted in a Sao Paulo subway station amid the COVID-19 pandemic NELSON ALMEIDA AFP
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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Brazil registered record daily numbers of infections and deaths from the new coronavirus Wednesday, sending its overall death toll surging past 90,000 people.

The country, which has been hit harder than any except the United States in the pandemic, recorded 69,074 new cases and 1,595 new deaths in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.

That brought the figures to a total of more than 2.5 million cases and 90,134 people killed since the start of the pandemic.

Experts say under-testing in the country of 212 million people means the real numbers are probably much higher.

Technical issues likely contributed to the high daily figures.

The health ministry had said Tuesday that problems with its online reporting system had delayed figures from Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous state and the one with the most cases and deaths.

- Leaving lockdown too soon? -

Still, the numbers paint a bleak picture of how the country is faring against the virus.

It has regularly recorded more than 1,000 deaths a day since early July, and more than 30,000 new cases a day since mid-June.

A health ministry official put the prolonged high numbers of cases and deaths down to increased testing.

"The testing program in Brazil has expanded a lot in recent weeks. That's an extremely important point," Arnaldo Medeiros, secretary for health vigilance, told a news conference.

President Jair Bolsonaro faces criticism for his handling of the pandemic.

The far-right leader has dismissed the virus as a "little flu" and attacked lockdown measures by state and local authorities to contain it, arguing the economic fallout could be worse than the disease.

Even after contracting the virus himself earlier this month, forcing him to work from quarantine at the presidential palace for more than two weeks, Bolsonaro has continued to downplay the severity of the pandemic.

Rather than lockdowns, Bolsonaro is pushing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as the way to fight the virus.

Like US President Donald Trump, whom he admires, Bolsonaro touts the drug as a remedy for the virus, despite a slate of scientific studies finding it has no effect against COVID-19 and can cause serious side effects.

After testing positive for the virus, the Brazilian leader took hydroxychloroquine himself, regularly showing off his box of pills.

Bolsonaro is currently on his third health minister of the pandemic, an active-duty army general with no prior medical experience.

The interim minister's two predecessors, both doctors, left after clashing with Bolsonaro, including over his insistence the health ministry recommend hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, most states have begun relaxing their stay-at-home measures, encouraged by the fact the number of infections finally appears to have reached a plateau.

But Brazil's infection curve has flattened at a very high level of daily cases, and experts warn it is still too soon to exit lockdowns in many places.

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