Brazil’s respond to the COVID-19 has become highly political and the country has experienced a steep rise in the infections with now death toll reaching to 41, 828, second highest in the world. With the Latin American nation leading the number of cases in the region – Americas now account near half of the global cases of pandemic – Brazil is now the epicenter of the epicenter. The worrying thing though is the nonchalant behavior (at least apparently) of its leader.
Since the start of outbreak, President Jair Bolsonaro has down played the disease and early on in the crisis, he addressed the virus and accused the media of creating hype and hysteria in the society. Bolsonaro has now opted to avoid television addresses as long as he can as he attempts to escape pot-banging protests by the public on their balconies.
However, in the absence of public broadcasts, irreverence to the pandemic continues even as his nation dump their dead in mass graves in Amazon and health systems are crashing out. When confronted with the grim leader board of coronavirus infections in the country and death toll it was taking, Mr. Bolsonaro shut the media by saying: “I am not a grave-digger.” Days later when he was asked for a comment on Brazil surpassing the China’s death toll, Bolsonaro blatantly brushed off the criticism aimed at him saying, “So what?”.
His message though, unfazed by the pandemic and failure of strategy to counter it, has remained consistent which blames state governors for the spread of disease while pressing that the collateral damage to the economy would be worse than corona itself if restrictions are imposed to curb it.
“His whole strategy is very clear,” says Oliver Stuenkel, Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.
“He doesn’t want to be seen as the person responsible for what very well may become the worst economic crisis in Brazil’s history. He has decided to not take responsibility because he sees that as his best chance to stay in office. I can’t see him now changing gears.”
While the country braces itself for worst with a daily death toll passing 1,000, politicians are in haste to open the economy. Shops and malls have reopened, surfers are returning to their usual activities in Rio but the confusion comes with the extension of lockdown in São Paulo. The mixed signals will hurt both public and businesses as shops will reopen but people will not be allowed to go for shopping leaving both shoppers and shops baffled.
“Nobody’s taking this seriously,” says Josy Almeida Balbino, who last week buried her corona victim father Antonio and sister Kelly.
“From one day to the next, people just deteriorate,” Josy adds. Kelly and Antonio were admitted to hospital one the same day, lay in ICU beds next to each other, and died within a day of each other. They are opening up again, in the worst moment of the crisis,” adds her son Marcos. They scoff at the president describing it ‘a little flu’.