Coronavirus: Brazil overtakes Spain and Italy in COVID-19 cases

Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro waves to his supporters amid the coronavirus pandemic at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on May 15. (Photo by Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Brazil has now surpassed that of Spain and Italy, official figures show.

It means the outbreak in Brazil is the fourth largest in the world after the country's health ministry registered 14,919 new confirmed cases in 24 hours, taking the total to 233,142, behind the United States, Russia and the UK.

Brazil has done just a fraction of the testing for COVID-19 seen in the other three countries.

The figures will pile pressure on president Jair Bolsonaro, who lost his second health minister in a month on Friday.

He has defied health experts and called for widespread use of drugs that have not been proved to be effective.

The 65-year-old right-wing leader has publicly attacked state governors in his country who have introduced quarantine measures to combat the spread of the virus, including the closure of schools, shops and restaurants.

He has previously described the virus as "light flu" despite the huge numbers of people who have died.

The president argues that the toll on the economy is becoming unbearable and businesses must be allowed to reopen as soon as possible.

The government now expects Brazil will suffer its biggest annual economic contraction this year since records began more than a century ago.

Brazil's vice president, Hamilton Mourao, underwent a COVID-19 test and was placed in isolation at his official residence on Saturday, after a public servant who had been near him last week tested positive.

Mr Mourao, 66, will not take part in official duties on Monday, when the results are expected.

Nationwide testing in Brazil still lags far behind European countries.

It had processed nearly 338,000 tests in official labs by the beginning of the week, according to its health ministry. Another 145,000 tests were under analysis or waiting to be carried out.

By contrast, Italy and Spain have each run some 1.9 million official diagnostic tests for the virus.

Brazil also reported 816 new deaths related to the virus on Saturday, bringing the total to more than 15,600.