RIO DE JANEIRO/SANTIAGO, Brazil/Chile, Aug 21, 2020 (Reuters) – The number of reported COVID-19 deaths in Latin America passed 250,000 on Thursday, as the virus continues to devastate the region that has become the worst affected in the world.

The grim milestone was passed as Brazil reported 1,204 deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours, according to the country’s health ministry.

Over the past week, the region has reported more than 3,000 deaths a day. According to a Reuters tally, daily caseloads continue to rise in Peru, Colombia and Argentina.

Brazil is battling the world’s second largest outbreak, behind only the United States, with the virus killing more than 112,000 people in Latin America’s largest nation.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn sharp criticism from health experts for his handling of the crisis. He has downplayed the gravity of the virus, dismissed the need for social distancing and urged businesses to reopen.

There are, however, small signs the worst may be over for the current outbreak in Brazil, with the Health Ministry saying on Wednesday that the spread of coronavirus could be about to slow.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Javier López de Lérida; Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Aurora Ellis)