The mayor of Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, has warned that health systems could collapse as demand grows for emergency beds to deal with coronavirus cases.
Bruno Covas said the city’s public hospitals had reached 90% and could run out of space in about two weeks.
São Paulo is one of the country’s worst-hit regions, with almost 3,000 deaths so far.
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.
São Paulo has the population of about 12 million, and official figures show that the majority of residents have been flouting social distancing rules.
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.
Meanwhile, 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 is only testing people who end up in the hospital,” Domingo Alves from the University of São Paulo Medical School told AFP news agency last week.
“It’s hard to know what’s really happening based on the available data. We don’t have a real policy to manage the outbreak,” he said.
Mr Alves is one of the authors of a study that estimated the real number of infections was 15 times higher than the official figure.
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 has downplayed the virus as “a little flu” and has said the spread of Covid-19 is inevitable.
In April, Mr Bolsonaro joined protesters demanding that lockdown restrictions be lifted. He says the restrictions are damaging the country’s 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.