The coronavirus has infected more than five million people around the world, with Latin America now seeing the fastest growth in new cases.
A surge in cases in Brazil and a growing outbreak in Argentina have propelled South America ahead of North America as the continent with the most new infections.
Yesterday, South America recorded 27,517 new cases, ahead of North America with 24,935, Asia with 21,542 and Europe with 17,275. Africa and Oceania have seen far fewer cases so far.
Experts fear that the worst is yet to come in the developing world, when even the rich world has seen its health systems overwhelmed by the crisis.
As of Thursday afternoon in Europe, the global tally of cases is now 5,014,943, according to Johns Hopkins University, while at least 328,462 people have died.
This chart shows how South America (in red) is now recording the largest number of new coronavirus infections per day, overtaking North America (in green) for the first time yesterday after previously surpassing Asia (purple) and Europe (blue). The rise has been driven by a surge in new cases in Brazil. Africa and Oceania have far fewer cases
After the virus first emerged in late 2019, the world reached one million cases in early April. Since then, each additional million has taken around two weeks.
Asia initially had the most cases because the virus was concentrated in China, which still had around 99 per cent of infections as late as mid-February.
Europe then became the focal point in mid-March, initially centred on Italy, before the huge outbreak in the United States put North America into an unwanted lead.
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.
The surge in cases in Latin America has been driven by a growing outbreak in Brazil, where there have been nearly 300,000 infections so far. Pictured: the coffin of a virus patient is buried in Sao Paulo yesterday
Europe still accounts for around half the world’s deaths, with more than 169,000 fatalities recorded there. However, Brazil now has the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind only the United States and Russia.
Brazil’s health ministry has recorded 291,579 cases and 18,859 deaths so far, with no signs that the outbreak is slowing. Yesterday’s figure of new infections was a record 19,951, while Tuesday saw a new high of 1,179 daily deaths.
Public health experts say the peak is not expected until June and fear that the true scale of the crisis is far greater because of insufficient testing.
Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro remains bitterly opposed to the lockdowns which most states have imposed, raging at the economic damage over what he calls a ‘little flu’.
Hospitals are already close to the breaking point in some areas, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the northwestern state of Amazonas.
About 13million Brazilians live in shanty town ‘favelas,’ where hygiene recommendations and physical distancing are almost impossible to follow.
Health workers and coronavirus patients in an intensive care unit in Manaus in northern Brazil yesterday, in a country which now has the third-largest outbreak in the world after the United States and Russia
Argentina is also recording hundreds of new cases a day in its worst spate of infections so far. The Argentine health ministry said last night that total cases had risen to 9,283, while 403 people have died.
Much of Argentina has been in lockdown since March 20, and scientists are working to develop rapid testing kits.
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.
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.