South America is rapidly becoming the new epicentre of the coronavirus after daily infection and death totals from countries in the region began to mount.
Brazil is by far the hardest-hit, with 291,579 cases and 18,859 deaths reported as of Wednesday – more than treble the figures of the next-worse case Peru, which has one of the fastest-growing death rates in the world.
Chile has the third highest case total after infections trebled since the start of the month, while Ecuador – which has the fourth highest infection total – has also seen deaths increase threefold in May.
In total, the continent has confirmed 518,498 cases and 26,599 deaths.
That is despite the fact that many countries are thought to be under-reporting their totals – due either to problems with testing or efforts to obscure the data.
South America is rapidly becoming the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic after seeing case numbers soar, with Brazil reporting an average of 10,000 cases per day this month (pictured, a graph showing the daily infection totals of some of the hardest-hit countries)
While South America’s death totals still lag behind the rest of the world, they are rapidly catching up as cases increase. Brazil again leads the pack with more than 1,000 deaths reported in a day this week (pictured, a graph comparing daily death totals)
In total, Peru has 104,020 cases and 3,024 deaths, while Chile has 52,617 cases and 544 deaths.
In Ecuador – where the government has often adjusted daily data reporting down – there are 34,854 cases and 2,888 deaths.
Colombia is also seeing its totals climb, with 17,687 cases and 630 deaths.
Even relatively well-performing South American nations – such as Argentina and Bolivia – have still seen their tolls rocket in just a few weeks.
On April 30, Argentina had reported 4,272 cases and 214 deaths. By May 20, that had doubled to 8,796 cases and 403 deaths.
Meanwhile Bolivia had recorded 1,110 cases and 59 deaths on April 30. By May 20, those totals had risen to 4,919 cases and 199 deaths – a four-fold increase.
While most South American countries have brought in some form of lockdown to try and stem the rise, enforcement has been patchy and many of the rules ignored.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has defied many of his regional governors by urging them to keep cities open – arguing the risk to the economy is larger than the risk to public health.
Despite the rapidly accelerating pandemic, far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro has urged Brazil to avoid lockdown altogether and keep the economy open
Mass graves has been pictured at cemeteries in Brazil to house some of the country’s victims
He has taken to wearing a mask in recent weeks, but has refused to stop holding mass rallies with supporters where social distancing rules are ignored.
During one ‘open the economy’ rally in Brasilia last week, he was filmed doing push-ups with his fans.
That is despite the fact that the country has recorded an average of more than 10,000 cases per day since the start of the month – with the rate still climbing.
Meanwhile doctors have complained that the country’s already-high totals are being vastly under-reported due to a lack of testing.
‘What is happening is a huge underreporting,’ said Isabella Rêllo, a doctor working in emergency and intensive care in hospitals in Rio de Janeiro said last month.
‘There are MANY more [cases].’
In recent weeks, pictures have emerged of mass graves being dug to bury the country’s victims.
In Peru, a regional mayor was also caught breaking lockdown to go drinking with friends, having been forced to return to his town by furious locals after an alleged 46-day absence amid lockdown.
Police photographed him laying in an open casket wearing a mask before arresting him for breaking lockdown rules.
Locals say he has failed to take the disease seriously, has not properly quarantined the town and has refused to set up coronavirus treatment centres.
Despite having the second-highest case total in South America, one Peruvian mayor was caught breaking lockdown by police this week – and played dead in an attempt to avoid arrest
The mayor – Jaime Rolando Urbina Torres – has denied being absent from the town, and angrily hit back at suggestions he has not protected people well enough.
Argentina is also recording hundreds of new cases a day in its worst spate of infections so far.
Much of Argentina has been in lockdown since March 20, and scientists are working to develop rapid testing kits.
While the outbreaks in Europe and the US have gradually been in retreat after weeks of lockdown, South America has yet to reach its peak.
According to figures from Our World In Data, daily cases in South America surpassed those in Europe on May 15 before overtaking North America yesterday.
The 27,517 new infections in South America on Wednesday made up more than a quarter of the world’s 94,557 additional cases.
Around the world, virologists are racing to develop a vaccine which would turn the tide against the virus, but it is likely to be many months away at least.
South America reported the highest daily infection total of any continent on Wedneday, the first time it has done so during the pandemic
Scientists are also trying to develop drugs to treat the virus more effectively, meaning that countries would have less to fear from an outbreak.
Some vaccine projects have already begun testing humans, including at Oxford University.
Up to 1,102 participants have been recruited across multiple study sites in Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol, although results are not expected for weeks.
Imperial College London is also progressing with its vaccine candidate and will look to move into clinical trials by mid-June, with larger scale trials in October.
However, experts and politicians warn there is no guarantee that an effective vaccine will ever be developed.
Even if it is, there are concerns about how it will be distributed in large enough quantities to bring the pandemic to a standstill.