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Coronavirus: VW shuts down Brazil plants as cases spike

The Wolfsburg-based automaker will stop its Brazilian production lines for 12 days from Wednesday amid an alarming rise in coronavirus infections there.

Men work at the assembly line of the Volkswagen van known in Brazil as Kombi in Sao Bernardo do Campo, outskirt of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Trade unions have been urging car companies to shutter their plants amid a spike in coronavirus cases

German auto giant Volkswagen said on Friday that it will suspend production at its four plants in Brazil owing to a surge in coronavirus infections in the South American country.

The Wolfsburg-based firm said it will stop factories from March 24 for a 12-day period "to protect the health of its employees and their families."

"Only essential activities will be maintained," it said in a statement. "Administrative employees will work remotely."

VW Volkswagen Brasilien Sao Bernardo do Campo

A Volkswagen plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo, 25 km south of Sao Paulo, which will close on Wednesday

The decision was taken after negotiations with the ABC Metalworkers Union, which is pressuring companies in the region to stop their production lines.

Brazil is South America's top auto producer and a key base for Volkswagen from where it produces models especially for the regional market.

The company brought production lines to a halt last year at the outbreak of the pandemic.

Most cases in single day, second-most deaths

More than 290,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, more than any country except the United States.

Its daily death tolls that are among the worst in the world. On Friday, the Health Ministry announced 90,570 new cases, the most in a single day in the country, and 2,815 deaths, the second-worst figure to date.

President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to introduce shutdowns of the economy, saying on Friday they could be a "fertile ground for dictatorship" because they would push more people into poverty.

Brazil | Coronavirus | Jair Bolsonaro

President Bolsonaro is a staunch critic of lockdowns

"I would never adopt the lockdown in Brazil," he said, adding that measures to curb the transmission of the virus could provoke acts of "civil disobedience".

The country's former leader, Lula da Silva, has hit out at Bolsonaro's COVID-19 policies as he mulls a possible run for the presidency next year after a corruption conviction was quashed.

Experts warn of health catastrophe

The nation's healthcare system is reeling from the crisis as hospitals are overwhelmed.

Researchers at Fiocruz,  Brazil’s leading healthcare institute, called the situation a "catastrophe."

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A paper published on March 16 said intensive care beds in the country's 27 states were now nearly full.

Brazil is going through "the biggest sanitary and hospital collapse in history," Fiocruz said. "The situation is absolutely critical."

jf/msh (AFP, Reuters)