It would be a gross understatement to say that the scene in Brazil has been “chaotic” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
If the outbreak of COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that unity is the only way to combat a worldwide health crisis.
However, it seems top Brazilian officials have yet to learn this vital lesson as coronavirus once again exposed the deep cracks and bitter rivalries in the country’s political foundation. This is while being too slow to realize the gravity of the emergency could cost hundreds of lives.
More than one million people around the globe have been infected with the virus, according to the data released on April 3 by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
The United States now leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases. Over 245,000 people are known to have been infected, including more than 6,000 deaths.
Europe became the epicenter of the outbreak in March. As of April 2, 455,901 cases have been registered in the EU/EEA and the UK, according to the statistics released by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, an independent agency of the European Union. 32,778 have died of respiratory disease in the region.
Situation in Brazil
Based on the data published by Johns Hopkins University, over 8,000 confirmed cases and 327 coronavirus-related deaths have been registered in Brazil so far.
Citing local health ministry officials, Reuters wrote on April 2 that an indigenous woman in the Amazon rainforest had contracted the novel coronavirus, the first case reported among Brazil’s more than 300 tribes.
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down vast swaths of public life across the world, with most governments have put in place heavy-handed measures to battle the virus.
Even though the tugs of war are common in Brazil, a different fight is underway.
As South America is bracing for a spike in the number of deaths, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly played down the dangers of COVID-19, calling it “a little cold”.
Some businesses, including retailers, have suspended activities. But, according to Guardian, the far-right leader has encouraged Brazilians to get back to work in defiance of advice from his own Health Ministry and the World Health Organization.
Wall Street Journal says he recently waded into crowds at a gas station, bakery, and supermarket, as supporters told him they want to keep working.
However, Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has publicly opposed the president’s calls to ease quarantine restrictions for Brazil’s 210 million people.
State governors have also refused to follow his commands over the pandemic. Just three of Brazil’s 27 states, home to 5.7 million people, have loosened social isolation measures, Guardian reported.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has encouraged people to get back to work in defiance of advice from health experts.
Call for Resignation
Some distinguished members of the Brazilian left have demanded that the president resign over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, and some politicians have proposed impeachment proceedings against him.
Even major social media companies are aiming at Bolsonaro, with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter removing controversial posts by the Brazilian president related to coronavirus.
Bolsonaro’s efforts to keep Latin America’s largest economy running as normal have split his cabinet.
Reuters, quoting informed sources, reported on April 2 that the president found himself isolated at a recent tense cabinet meeting in his official residence. The emergency meeting had been held to resolve the dispute with his health minister.
The economic outlook is very likely to pile pressure on Bolsonaro. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the Brazilian economy was off to a soft start to 2020.
Official figures cited by Reuters show that Brazil’s economy grew 1.1% last year, the lowest GDP growth rate in three years. The country will also likely face a period of large swings in food prices as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Economy Ministry officials have said the government’s deficit this year will balloon to a record 419 billion reais ($80 billion), equivalent to 5.5% of GDP.
The economic outlook is very likely to pile pressure on the Brazilian president.
A war budget has been proposed by Brazilian lawmakers to help shield the economy from the fallout of the public health crisis, and, according to Reuters, the country has reached out to China for help and eyes U.S. cooperation.
Bolsonaro’s response brings to mind the response of his political idol U.S. President Donald Trump who initially underplayed the severity of the coronavirus.
But, as Guardian says, maybe Bolsonaro should not look to Trump, but to his predecessor Barack Obama, who once said, “Ignorance is not a virtue”.