The Brazilian president may be risking his political future by taking the viral pandemic lightly.
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro said in one of his more controversial declarations, going against World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, that he was asking state governors to end the quarantine regime and closure of schools and shops to "minimize the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic." This is at a time when virtually every other national and regional government is asking their citizens to keep themselves isolated.
The president said there was no reason for confining the entire population as older people were the ones particularly at risk from the coronavirus. The virus, he said in typical fashion, would cause no more than a "slight flu," and Brazil"s warm climate and youthful population protected it against the pandemic. Bolsonaro then blamed the media for whipping up collective hysteria among a traumatized population.
The 65-year-old leader appears to give scant importance to the Brazilian health ministry's recent report, which counted more than 4,250 registered infections in the country by March 29, with 136 deaths that day or 22 more than the day before. Any government might reasonably act with speed and efficacy before the disturbing scenario.
The aim was to get Brazilians outside risk groups to come out of confinement.
People were quick to react, banging pots and pans on their balconies in Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo. Parliamentarians and jurists made declarations, and seven former health ministers publicly rejected Bolsonaro's statements. There are three great enemies in the country right now, they stated in a communiqué: "the health emergency, economic measures to reduce the pandemic's impact mainly on the poor, and Bolsonaro himself. Beside these two fronts, which are a challenge in themselves, we have to try and neutralize all the time, the brutality of the president and some of his supporters." The country's National Council of Education Secretaries (CONSED) stated it would maintain the recommendation of state governors on suspending classes in school.
If that were not enough, the president used government facilities and spent 4.8 million reals ($913,000 euros) to publicize the slogan Brazil Cannot Stop. Health and Dignity, Brazil Definitely Cannot Stop. Its aim was to get Brazilians outside risk groups to come out of confinement.
A judge has ordered the government to "abstain" from promoting slogans contrary to the restrictive measures governors have imposed. The country's division is more than evident. Will Bolsonaro's mismanagement of the pandemic mean the beginning of the end of his political career?