Brazil hit a record high for new coronavirus cases Wednesday, after becoming the country with the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the world earlier this week.
The country’s health ministry reported 19,951 new cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 291,579 confirmed cases.
This new surge tops the previous record set Tuesday. Reported deaths caused by coronavirus also increased by 888 on Wednesday, bringing to the country’s total to 18,859 deaths, the ministry said.
Asked about Brazil’s skyrocketing numbers on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said that he was mulling a travel ban on Brazil.
“We are considering it,” Trump said, adding: “We hope that we’re not going to have a problem. The governor of Florida is doing very, very well testing – in particular Florida, because a big majority come in to Florida. Brazil has gone more or less herd, and they’re having problems.
“I worry about everything, I don’t want people coming in here and infecting our people,” Trump said, “I don’t want people over there sick, either.”
Amid the spiraling health crisis, Brazil’s lower house of Congress has approved a proposed law that would make use the use of personal protection masks in public spaces mandatory.
The proposed law would require people to wear any form of face covering in areas that are accessible to the public, including parks, sidewalks, public transportation and even private buildings where there is a high level of foot traffic. Individuals not wearing masks would be fined up to $52.
The proposal needs approval by the Senate and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who rarely wears facial coverings. It is unclear when the Senate vote will happen.
Health system on the brink
Brazil’s alarming numbers come days after Sao Paulo’s mayor warned that its health system could be overwhelmed very soon if residents don’t follow social distancing guidelines. Officials in the major city of 12 million have declared a five-day holiday in a bid to get residents to stay home.
By Monday, Brazil achieved the grim record of having the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, behind the United States and Russia.
Yet Bolsonaro continues to dismiss the threat of the virus, saying quarantines and lockdowns could have a worse impact on Brazil’s economy.
He has repeatedly dismissed Covid-19 as a “little flu” and urged businesses to reopen, even as many governors scramble to implement social isolation measures and slow the spread.
The country lost its second health minister in a month last week. Nelson Teich stepped down after clashing with Bolsonaro over the country’s coronavirus strategy. In April, Bolsonaro fired his predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, after a prolonged standoff.
Teich clashed with Bolsonaro over the use of malaria drugs to treat the virus and social isolation measures.
Despite the political crisis, the populist leader continues to tout chloroquine as a potential wonder drug against the new coronavirus – like his US counterpart Trump – even though it is an unproven treatment for Covid-19.
Bolsonaro tweeted on Wednesday that there will be new guidelines to expand the use of chloroquine.
“Today we will have a new protocol on chloroquine” issued by the Ministry of Health, Bolsonaro wrote, calling it “a hope, according to the many who have used it.”
Brazil’s medical authority approved the use of hydroxychloroquine – which has been described as the less toxic derivative of chloroquine – in April in serious cases of coronavirus if the doctor and patient agree. Bolsonaro has since pushed for approval to use the drug in less serious cases.
It follows Trump’s claim on Monday that he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, even though medical experts, the US Food and Drug Administration and at least one study have questioned its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects.
CNN’s Shasta Darlington reported from Sao Paolo, Tara John reported from London, and Flora Charner reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Tatiana Arias contributed to this report.