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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the Presidential Palace in Brasília, Brazil, in September. Photo: Andre Borges/picture alliance via Getty Images

Brazil became on Wednesday the third country to surpass 5 million coronavirus cases, as the virus death toll in the nation neared 150,000.

By the numbers: Brazil has the third-highest number of cases after India (almost 6.8 million) and the U.S. (over 7.5 million), per Johns Hopkins.

  • It has the second-highest death toll from COVID-19 (over 148,200) after the U.S. (nearly 211,800).

The big picture: President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the virus and opposed lockdowns.

  • Federal University of Rio de Janeiro epidemiologist Roberto Medronho told Reuters, "We are seeing the authorities easing social distancing more and more despite the number of cases."

Go deeper

Updated Jan 15, 2021 - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Jan 15, 2021 - Health

CDC: Highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March

Health care providers work at triage tents outside Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Southern California. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the highly transmissible coronavirus variant first discovered in the U.K. will likely become the dominant strain in the U.S. this March if more steps aren't taken to mitigate the spread.

The state of play: Only about 76 people in a dozen states have been diagnosed with the the B.1.1.7 variant so far, according to the CDC, but experts warn there are likely more undetected cases. Although the variant is more contagious, it does not appear to be resistant to existing vaccines or cause more severe symptoms.

Jan 16, 2021 - Health

CDC director defends agency's response to coronavirus pandemic

Robert Redfield. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Outgoing CDC director Robert Redfield told NPR on Friday that he was proud of the agency's response to the coronavirus pandemic and that he disagreed with his incoming successor's conclusion that the "gold standard for the nation's public health — has been tarnished."

Why it matters: The CDC has faced sharp criticism throughout its nearly year-long response to the coronavirus pandemic over several issues, including some of its messaging and guidance, which has been described as inconsistent and confusing.