May 24 (UPI) — With a spike of more than 20,000 new infections of COVID-19 within 24 hours, Brazil on Saturday reported the third-highest number of cases in the world behind Russia and the United States.
Brazil’s Health Ministry reported 330,890 cases Friday, up 20,803 from Thursday.
“In a sense, South America has become a new epicenter for the disease,” the World Health Organization’s top emergencies expert Dr. Mike Ryan said, with Brazil being the “most affected” South American country.
Ryan added that authorities in Brazil have broadly approved anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment even though clinical evidence does not support its widespread use given potential side effects.
Policy experts said one of the biggest challenges in curbing the spread is Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
“It’s unbelievable what’s happening in Brazil,” said Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist and researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sao Paulo. “When the biggest science denier in the country is the president himself, what can we scientists do?”
Brazil has reported 21,048 deaths from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University’s global tracker.
The United States has the highest number of cases at more than 1.6 million and more than 96,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.
President Donald Trump, an ally of Bolsonaro, has similarly touted the anti-malarial drug as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
Trump also said earlier this week he started to take hydroxychloroquine, but a study published Friday in The Lancet found that the drug has no clinical benefit, might cause serious heart-related side effects, and people with severe illness treated with it were twice as likely to die than a control group.
Trump also called Friday for places of worship to reopen and threatened to override governors if they don’t allow them to reopen.
Religious ceremonies have also now been allowed to immediately resume in France, according to a legislative decree published Saturday morning.
France’s Interior Ministry has collaborated with faith leaders “to ensure that religious ceremonies resume, while ensuring the health protection of all,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a statement Friday night.
According to the global tracker, France has 182,015 COVID-19 cases and 28,218 deaths.
Russia reported 335,882 cases as of Saturday, the second-highest globally. The country has had 3,388 deaths from the virus, according to the global tracker.
Britain now has the fourth-highest number of cases worldwide with 255,544 cases and 36,475 deaths.
A spokesperson for the British prime minister’s office told CNN that top aide Dominic Cummings did not breach COVID-19 guidelines after it was revealed that he showed symptoms of the virus while he traveled across the country to stay at his parents’ home.
South Korea has received international praise for largely bringing the coronavirus under control after continuing a monthlong streak of new daily cases below 100. But after beginning to loosen its social-distancing guidelines, a cluster of cases started to develop linked to multiple Seoul nightclubs that a 29-year-old man who was infected with the virus had visited.
As of Saturday, 219 cases have been linked to the nightclub cluster, said Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
South Korea has 11,165 COVID-19 cases and 266 deaths from the virus, according to the global tracker.
Globally, the number of cases is more than 5.2 million with over 338,000 deaths from COVID-19.
In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced the country’s longest period of mourning in history — 10 days.
“Starting Tuesday, when the entire national territory is in phase one, the government of Spain will approve a formal declaration of official mourning throughout our country in memory of the victims of COVID-19. The mourning will last 10 days, the longest official mourning in history of our democracy.”
“Those who died in this epidemic deserve to be remembered.”
Also Saturday, far-right protesters in Spain called for lockdowns to be lifted, driving their cars through major cities to maintain social distancing.
The country imposed some of the tightest restrictions in Europe in mid-March, but large cities are planning on loosening the restrictions gradually. Protesters, citing the impact on jobs and the economy, want the lockdown lifted immediately.