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Brazil recorded its first death from COVID-19 on March 17 and by mid-June the country was the world leader in daily deaths.

Overall, Brazil is second behind the United States both in the number of cases and deaths due to coronavirus. But local experts question the official numbers and believe that there are several million cases in the country already.

“Brazil today, according to our estimates, is the epicenter of the pandemic in the whole world,” says Domingos Alves, professor in the Department of Medicine at University of São Paulo in Ribeirão Preto.

Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s right-wing nationalist president, has dismissed the threat posed by the virus and has seen his popularity plunge. His allies have even threatened a military coup to try to maintain his grip on power.

Like in the U.S., those most affected have been people of color who live in poor communities —essential workers, street vendors and people who can’t afford to stay home— and this has triggered a national conversation about economic and racial disparities. According to the Ministry of Health, Black and Brown Brazilians represent about one-third of the deaths in the country.

While cases and deaths continue to climb in Brazil, cities and states started reopening shopping malls, car dealerships, bars, restaurants and churches—a decision that health experts say could be catastrophic.

In this episode of Latino USA, we talk to people in the state and city of São Paulo, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Brazil, to find out why the country —one of the largest economies in the world and a nation that has often been in the forefront of innovative public health treatments— has failed to combat the pandemic.

Featured image: Shoppers wearing face masks walk in a crowded Mercadao de Madureira, at the Madureira neighborhood amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on June 17, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Andre Coelho/Getty Images)

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