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Latin America becomes epicenter of coronavirus pandemic

Latin America becomes epicenter of coronavirus pandemic
Workers bury victims of the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday in the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the largest cemetery in Latin America. Photo by Paulo Whitaker/EPA-EFE

May 30 (UPI) -- Latin America is poised to become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, according to public health experts, as the rate of new deaths and cases decline in the United States and Europe.

Brazil has 465,166 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27,878 deaths from the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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That's the second highest number of cases in the world next to the United States, which has more than 1.7 million cases and 102,836 deaths from the coronavirus, the global tracker shows.

Across the 33 countries in Latin America, roughly 920,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed and there have been nearly 50,000 deaths.

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"This is the new epicenter," Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of communicable diseases at the Pan American Health Organization, told CNN.

The World Health Organization also said Latin America, particularly Brazil, is the new focus of fighting the disease.

"In South America,we are particularly concerned that the number of new cases reported last week in Brazil was the highest for a seven-day period since the outbreak began," said Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas.

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While the rates of infection and deaths have gone down in the United States, Europe and Asia, Latin America's rates have reached new highs.

"In many ways this is no surprise," Drexel University's Public Health Dean Dr. Ana Diez Roux said. "It was predictable that this was going to happen."

Experts told CNN that flawed government response and Latin America's economic inequality and lack of public health investment fueled the outbreak, which will likely get worse.

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Meanwhile, in China, Center for Disease Control and Prevention said an investigation ruled out a seafood market in Wuhan as the place where the outbreak started.

"It now turns out that the market is one of the victims," Chinese CDC Director Gau Fu said in a press conference this week.

Gau added that he personally collected samples from the Wuhan site in early January and samples collected from animals came back negative, indicating that the animals had not infected shoppers.

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He also said that China would cooperate with the World Health Organization on its virus-tracing probe.

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he cut ties between the United States and WHO, blaming it on the "malfeasance" of China, which he blames for covering up COVID-19's origins.

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Italy, which once had the most deaths from the virus worldwide, now has 232,248 COVID-19 cases and 33,229 deaths, the COVID-19 global tracker shows.

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The country will began to allow inter-regional travel on Wednesday, the government announced Friday evening.

The move came as Italy's health ministry reported no critical spikes in COVID-19 cases in any region. Still, health officials urged caution as travel increases, especially considering a new wave of infections is possible in the fall.

COVID-19 has infected more than 5.9 million people worldwide and killed more than 365,000, according to the global tracker.

World moves to reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic

Visitors wear face masks as they tour the Whitney Museum of American Art as it reopens on September 3. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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