The confirmed global death toll from the COVID-19 virus reached at least 400,000 fatalities on Sunday, a day after the government of Brazil broke with standard public health protocols by ceasing to publish updates of the number of deaths and infections in the hard-hit South American country.
Worldwide, at least 6.9 million people have been infected by the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University, whose aggregated tally has become the main worldwide reference for monitoring the disease. Its running counter says United States leads the world with nearly 110,000 confirmed virus-related deaths. Europe as a whole has recorded more than 175,000 since the virus emerged in China late last year.
Health experts, however, believe that the John Hopkins tally falls short of showing the true tragedy of the pandemic.
Many governments have struggled to produce statistics that can reasonably be considered as true indicators of the pandemic given the scarcity of diagnostic tests especially in the first phase of the crisis. Authorities in Italy and Spain, with over 60,000 combined deaths, have acknowledged that their death count is larger than the story the numbers tell.
But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro went as far as to tweet on Saturday that his country’s disease totals are “not representative” of Brazil’s current situation, insinuating that the numbers were actually overestimating the spread of the virus.
Critics of Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly clashed with health experts over the seriousness of the disease and has threatened to take Brazil out of the World Health Organization, said the decision was a manoeuvre by the hardman-style leader to hide the depths of crisis.
Brazil’s last official numbers recorded over 34,000 virus-related deaths, the third-highest toll in the world behind the U.S. and Britain. It reported nearly 615,000 infections, putting it second behind the U.S.
After Bolsonaro stoked his clash with health experts, Pope Francis cautioned people in countries emerging from lockdown to keep following authorities’ rules on social distancing, hygiene and limits on movement.
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“Be careful, don’t cry victory, don’t cry victory too soon,” Francis said. “Follow the rules. They are rules that help us to avoid the virus getting ahead” again.
The Argentine-born pontiff has also expressed dismay that the virus is still claiming many lives, especially in Latin America.
Francis was clearly delighted to see several hundred people gathered below his window in St. Peter’s Square on Sundays for the pope’s noon blessing after Italy eased its restrictions on public gatherings.