Story at a glance

  • The hardest-hit country in South America is Brazil with more than 310,000 cases.
  • More than 20,000 have died in the country.
  • More than 108,000 cases occurred in Peru while more than 61,000 have been tallied in Chile.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Friday that South America is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic as cases rapidly rise in Brazil and other countries across the region. 

“We’ve seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases and clearly there’s a concern across many of those countries, but certainly the most affected is Brazil at this point,” Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said during a news conference Friday. 


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“In a sense, South America has become a new epicenter for the disease,” he added. 

Brazil currently has the most number of cases in South America, and the third most cases globally behind Russia and the U.S., with more than 310,000 and more than 20,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Meanwhile, Peru has more than 108,000 cases and Chile more than 61,000.

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Cases in Brazil have been rising over several weeks, overwhelming hospitals, particularly in the city of São Paulo, with a surge of patients. The WHO official said the majority of cases are in the São Paulo region, as Rio de Janeiro, Ceara, Amazonas and Pernambuco have been hit as well. 

“In terms of attack rates, the highest attack rates are actually in Amazonas,” Ryan said, adding “About 490 persons infected per 100,000 population, which is quite a high attack rate.” 

Ryan noted the Brazilian government’s decision to enable the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, which President Trump has said he is taking to defend against infection. Several studies, including a large study published Friday, have found that patients treated with the drug were more likely to die than those who weren’t. 

“The government in Brazil has approved the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for broader use,” Ryan said. “The current clinical evidence does not support the widespread use of the medicine for the treatment of COVID-19.” 

The coronavirus has now infected more than 5.1 million people globally and left more than 335,000 dead.


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Published on May 22, 2020