RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil is emerging as potentially the next big hot spot for the coronavirus amid President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence that it is just a ‘‘little flu” and that there is no need for the sharp restrictions that have slowed the infection’s spread in Europe and the United States.
As some US states and European countries moved gradually Monday to ease their limits on movement and commerce, the intensifying outbreak in Brazil — Latin America’s biggest country, with 211 million people — pushed hospitals to the breaking point and left victims dead at home.
“We have all the conditions here for the pandemic to become much more serious,’’ said Paulo Brandão, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo.
Brazil officially reported about 4,500 deaths and almost 67,000 confirmed infections. But the true numbers there, as in many other countries, are believed to be vastly higher given the lack of testing and the many people without severe symptoms who haven’t sought hospital care.
Some scientists said more than 1 million in Brazil are probably infected. And the crisis could escalate as the country heads into winter, which can worsen respiratory illnesses.
The country’s health ministry said that the system for accounting for deaths has captured all but a few cases.
Worldwide, the death toll neared 210,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the United States topped 55,000. Italy, Britain, Spain, and France accounted for more than 20,000 deaths each.
Bolsonaro has disputed the seriousness of the coronavirus and said people need to resume their lives to prevent an economic meltdown. But most state governors in the country have adopted restrictions to slow the spread and pushed people to stay at home.
In mid-April, Bolsonaro fired his popular health minister after a series of disagreements over efforts to contain the virus, replacing him with an advocate for reopening the economy. Residents protested, leaning out their windows to bang pots and pans.
Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse or too overwhelmed to take any more patients.
Officials in Sao Paulo — the largest city in South America, in a tightly packed metropolitan area of over 21 million residents, many of them living in poverty — have issued death certificates over the past two weeks for 236 people who succumbed at home according to the SAMU paramedic service.
Manaus, an Amazon city of 1.8 million, recorded 142 deaths on Sunday, the most yet. In the main cemetery, workers have been digging mass graves. Brazil’s funeral industry warned last week that the city was running out of coffins and ‘‘there could soon be corpses left on corners.”