Country's virus death toll surpasses the UK - as experts warn peak is yet to come

Brazil has registered 850,514 confirmed cases of new coronavirus and the total death toll has now reached 42,720.

The Ministry of Health said on Saturday Brazil had registered 21,704 new cases over the last 24 hours and 892 deaths.

The country now has the second-highest death toll from COVID-19 behind the United States, figures from Johns Hopkins University suggest.

Brazil's biggest city, Sao Paulo, is freeing up space at its graveyards during the pandemic by digging up the bones of people buried in the past and storing their bagged remains in large metal containers.

Ossimar Silva (L) touches his 85-year-old mother Carmelita Valverde's face, through a transparent plastic curtain at a senior nursing home in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
A man touches his 85-year-old mother's face through a plastic curtain at a nursing home in Sao Paulo. Source: Getty Images

The remains of people who died at least three years ago will be exhumed and put in numbered bags, then stored temporarily in 12 storage containers the city's funeral service has purchased.

Many health experts predict the peak of Brazil’s pandemic will arrive in August, having spread from the big cities where it first appeared into the nation’s interior.

Brazil passed the United Kingdom on Friday to become the country with the world’s second highest death toll.

A costumer's temperature is checked as she enters a shopping mall after it reopened, at Paulista Avenue, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Shoppers get temperature checks ahead of entering a recently reopened mall. Source: Getty Images

Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s emergencies chief, said Friday that the situation in Brazil remains “of concern,” although acknowledged that intensive care bed occupancy rates are now below 80 per cent in most areas of the country.

“Overall the health system is still coping in Brazil, although, having said that, with the sustained number of severe cases that remains to be seen,” Dr Ryan said.

“Clearly the health system in Brazil across the country needs significant support in order to sustain its effort in this regard. But the data we have at the moment supports a system under pressure, but a system still coping with the number of severe cases.”

The experts aren’t the only ones with concerns.

The only thing which scares gravediggers

At Sao Paulo’s biggest cemetery, Vila Formosa, Adenilson Costa was among workers in blue protective suits digging up old graves on Friday (local time).

He said their work has only grown more arduous during the pandemic, and as he removed bones from unearthed coffins, he said he fears what is to come.

“With this opening of malls and stores we get even more worried. We are not in the curve; we are in the peak and people aren’t aware,” Mr Costa said.

“This isn’t over. Now is the worrisome moment. And there are still people out.”

Employees carry the coffin of a person who died from COVID-19 at the Vila Formosa cemetery, in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Employees carry at coffin the Vila Formosa cemetery. Source: Getty Images

In April, gravediggers at Vila Formosa buried 1,654 people, up more than 500 from the previous month. Numbers for May and June aren’t yet available.

Before the pandemic, Costa said, he and colleagues would exhume remains of about 40 coffins per day if families stopped paying required fees for the plots. In recent weeks that figure has more than doubled.

Remains stored in the metal containers will eventually be moved to a public ossuary, according to the statement from the city’s funeral office. Its superintendent, Thiago Dias da Silva, told the Globo network that containers have been used before and they are more practical and affordable than building new ossuaries.

An aerial picture shows grave diggers burying an alleged COVID-19 victim at the Vila Formosa Cemetery, in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Gravediggers bury what's believed to be a COVID-19 victim. Source: Getty Images

Work has been so busy in Sao Paulo cemeteries since the outbreak began that one of Mr Costa’s relatives was buried only a few meters from where he was working one day — without him even knowing.

“I only found out the next day,” he said.

Three other people he knew have also died from the virus.

“People say nothing scares gravediggers. COVID does,” Mr Costa said.

with AAP and The Associated Press

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