BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — 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 South American epicenter of the disease.
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. It says United States leads the world with more than 112,000 confirmed virus-related deaths. Europe 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 more than 60,000 combined deaths, have acknowledged that their true death count is larger than the story the numbers tell.
Brazil’s government has stopped publishing a running total of coronavirus deaths and infections; critics say it’s an attempt to hide the toll of the disease.
President Jair Bolsonaro went as far as to tweet on Saturday that his country’s disease totals are “not representative” of Brazil’s situation, insinuating that the numbers were overestimating the spread of the virus — a view the opposite of experts around the world.
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 maneuver by the right-wing leader to hide the depths of crisis.
Brazil’s last official numbers recorded more than 34,000 virus-related deaths, the third-highest toll in the world behind the United States and Britain. It reported nearly 615,000 infections, putting it second behind the United States.
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.
“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 expressed dismay that the virus is still claiming many lives, especially in Latin America.
Francis was clearly delighted to see several hundred people gather below his window in St. Peter’s Square on Sundays for the pope’s noon blessing after Italy eased its restrictions on public gatherings.
Many counties, including the United States and Britain, claims they can ease restrictions before having stalled their outbreaks.
In the United States, the virus churns on underneath the unrest provoked by the death of George Floyd and increasingly directed at President Trump’s handling of the protests.
On Sunday, the U.K. revealed that places of worship can reopen on June 15 — but only for private prayer.
Worries have surfaced over the past weeks that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is easing restrictions too soon, with new infections still running at 8,000 a day. As things stands, nonessential shops, including department stores, are due to reopen on June 15.
Professor John Edmunds, who attends meetings of the British government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the epidemic “is definitely not all over” and that there is an “awful long way to go.”
On Sunday, the U.K. government reported that another 77 people died of the virus, the lowest daily increase since the lockdown began on March 23. However, the increase is being treated with caution, as throughout the pandemic the increases reported on Sunday have been artificially depressed as a result of weekend reporting lag effects.
In France, the government announced that on Tuesday it will ease restrictions limiting travel from the French mainland to overseas territories in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean.
Spain is preparing to take scale back its containment with Madrid and Barcelona opening the interiors of restaurants with reduced seating on Monday.
In Turkey, Istanbul residents flocked to the city’s shores and parks on the first weekend with no lockdown, prompting a reprimand from the health minister.
Russia remained troubling, with nearly 9,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, roughly in line with numbers reported over the past week.
Pakistan is approaching 100,000 confirmed infections as medical professionals plead for more controls and greater enforcement of social distancing. But Prime Minister Imran Khan said a full shutdown would devastate a failing economy.
India confirmed 9,971 new coronavirus cases in another biggest single-day spike, a day before it prepares to reopen shopping malls, hotels and religious places after a 10-week lockdown.
China has reported its first nonimported case in two weeks, an infected person on the island of Hainan off the southern coast.
By JOSEPH WILSON