Brazil is emerging as potentially the next big hot spot for the coronavirus amid President Jair Bolsonaro's insistence that it is just a "little flu" and that there is no need for the sharp restrictions that have slowed the infection's spread in Asia, Europe and the United States.
As some countries moved gradually today to ease their limits on movement and commerce, the intensifying outbreak in Brazil — Latin America 's biggest country, with 211 million people — pushed hospitals to the breaking point and left victims dead at home.
"We have all the conditions here for the pandemic to become much more serious," said Paulo Brandão, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo.
Brazil officially reported about 4500 deaths and almost 67,000 confirmed infections. But the true numbers there, as in many other countries, are believed to be vastly higher given the lack of testing and the many people without severe symptoms who haven't sought hospital care.
Some scientists said over one million in Brazil are probably infected. And the crisis could escalate as the country heads into winter, which can worsen respiratory illnesses.
The country's Health Ministry said that the system for accounting for deaths is "robust" and has captured all but a few cases.
Worldwide, the death toll neared 210,500, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the US topped 55,900 — close to the 58,000 US troops killed during the Vietnam War. Italy, Britain, Spain and France accounted for more than 20,000 deaths each.
In other developments:
— In the US, the Trump Administration worked to draw up new guidelines for how restaurants, schools, churches and businesses can safely reopen. The draft under consideration included suggestions such as closing break rooms at offices, using disposable menus in restaurants and having students eat lunch in their classrooms.
— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work after a bout with the virus and warned strongly against easing his own country's lockdown too soon: "I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life."
— In an unprecedented move, New York cancelled its Democratic presidential primary, set for June 23, since Bernie Sanders has already conceded the nomination to Joe Biden.
Technology is likely to play an important role in helping countries ease their restrictions.
Many countries, including Italy, France, Switzerland and Britain, are working on virus-tracking apps and other means of reducing the labour-intensive task of tracing infected people's contacts.
In Australia, with about 80 Covid-19 deaths, 1.1 million of the country's 26 million people downloaded a new contract-tracing app within 12 hours of its becoming available.
In another encouraging sign amid the gloom, New York state reported 337 deaths for the lowest daily count this month, down from a high of nearly 800 almost three weeks ago.
And Italy registered its lowest day-to-day number of new cases of Covid-19 since practically the first day the country was put under lockdown in early March.
In Brazil, Bolsonaro has disputed the seriousness of the coronavirus and said people need to resume their lives to prevent an economic meltdown. But most state governors in the country have adopted restrictions to slow the spread and pushed people to stay at home.
In mid-April, Bolsonaro fired his popular health minister after a series of disagreements over efforts to contain the virus, replacing him with an advocate for reopening the economy. Residents protested, leaning out their windows to bang pots and pans.
Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse or too overwhelmed to take any more patients.
Officials in Sao Paulo — the largest city in South America, in a tightly packed metropolitan area of over 21 million residents, many of them living in poverty — have issued death certificates over the past two weeks for 236 people who succumbed at home, double the number before the outbreak, according to the SAMU paramedic service.
Manaus, an Amazon city of 1.8 million, recorded 142 deaths yesterday, the most yet, including 41 who died at home. In the main cemetery, workers have been digging mass graves. Brazil's funeral industry warned last week that the city was running out of coffins and "there could soon be corpses left on corners."