The mayor of Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, has said its health system could collapse as demand grows for emergency beds to deal with coronavirus cases.
Bruno Covas said the city’s public hospitals had reached 90 per cent capacity and could run out of space in two weeks.
He accused those who flouted lockdown rules of playing “Russian roulette” with people’s lives.
São Paulo is one of the country’s worst-hit regions, with almost 3,000 deaths so far, reports the BBC.
On Saturday, Brazil overtook Spain and Italy to become the nation with the fourth largest number of infections.
The health ministry reported 7,938 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total above 241,000. Only the US, Russia and the UK have higher numbers.
The death toll in the Latin American nation over 24 hours was 485, meaning that the total number of deaths is 16,118 – the world’s fifth-highest figure.
Health experts in Brazil have warned that the real number of confirmed infections in the country may be far higher than the official records, due to a lack of testing.
Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has been strongly criticised both at home and abroad for his handling of the country’s escalating coronavirus crisis.
He defied global health advice on social distancing on Sunday when he posed for photographs with supporters and children in the capital, Brasília.
What did São Paulo’s mayor say?
Mr Covas said he was now in crisis talks with the state governor over introducing a strict lockdown to try to slow the contagion before hospitals were overwhelmed.
The governor of São Paulo state controls the police, and his support will be essential if a lockdown is to succeed.
Mr Covas called on the population to stay at home to stem the spread of the virus saying São Paulo needed to “slow down even more” to reduce contagion.
“It is hard to believe that some prefer the population to be subjected to Russian roulette. Indifference in the face of death is unseemly,” he said.
São Paulo has a population of about 12 million, and official figures show that the majority of residents have been flouting social distancing rules.
How is President Bolsonaro handling the crisis?
Mr Bolsonaro, who is popular in São Paulo, continues to oppose lockdown measures, arguing that social distancing will only wreck the economy.
In March he made a speech calling on mayors and governors to roll back coronavirus restrictions: “Our lives have to go on. Jobs must be kept. We must get back to normal.”
The president described the closures of businesses and schools, together with restrictions on public transport, as “scorched-earth” policies.
Despite the rapidly rising infection rate, Mr Bolsonaro argued that most people – including himself – had nothing to fear from the virus.
“With my history as an athlete, if I were infected with the virus I would have no reason to worry. I would feel nothing, or it would be at most just a little flu,” he said.
In April, Mr Bolsonaro joined protesters demanding that lockdown restrictions be lifted. He says the restrictions are damaging the economy, bringing unemployment and hunger.
Last week, Brazilian Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned after less than a month in the job. Mr. Teich stepped down after he had publicly criticised a decree by Mr. Bolsonaro allowing gyms and beauty parlours to reopen. Mr. Teich’s predecessor was sacked after disagreeing with Mr. Bolsonaro.