The fact that Bolsonaro was a danger to public health was already clear enough, but his latest statements have truly shocked the country. On Tuesday evening, speaking on live TV, while the main cities were ringing out with the deafening noise of the banging of pots and pans in the seventh consecutive panelaço protest, Brazil’s president once again compared the COVID-19 pandemic to a gripezinha, “a little cold,” accusing the press of generating hysteria and calling for a return to “normality.”
“Our lives must move forward,” he said, demanding that the governors should “abandon the concept of scorched earth,” by which he meant the shutdown of commercial activities and “mass confinement.” He rejected out of hand any comparison with Italy, which he dismissed as a “country of old people,” and also spoke out against the closure of schools: “The group at risk are people over the age of 60. So why suspend classes, then?”
On Wednesday morning, heedless of the deluge of indignant reactions pouring in, the Brazilian president, whom the well-known American political scientist Ian Arthur Bremmer has called the most inefficient head of state in the world in the fight against the pandemic, doubled down as usual, announcing his intention to ask the Minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, to adopt a policy of nothing more than “vertical isolation,” i.e. isolation limited exclusively to the elderly or people suffering from other diseases, and calling the quarantine measures enacted by the governors of Rio and São Paulo, Wilson Witzel and João Doria, “a crime.” And that wasn’t all: in absolute opposition to the rest of the world, he went as far as to say that “staying at home is for cowards.”
The backlash from these statements could not have been stronger. Even the newspaper O Globo, which contributed so much to his election, pulled no punches: for Bolsonaro, the main editorial reads, “the welfare of Brazilians is of no importance at all, most of them low-income and often living in favelas or communities vulnerable to the coronavirus, dependent on the action of a government whose president insists on minimizing the crisis.”
Almost all the political class seemed to rally against the irresponsibility of “Bolsovirus,” his new nickname across social media: the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the main political leaders, governors, journalists, entertainers, even some previously ardent supporters.
Bolsonaro—who is also suspected of covering up his own positive COVID-19 test—“is more harmful to the country than any virus,” said the PT in a statement, denouncing his inability to lead the country in the face of “the most serious health crisis ever faced by the modern world.” The governor of Espírito Santo, Renato Casagrande, also pointed out that Brazil is now “without leadership,” giving voice to an unease that has led the governors of all Brazilian states to meet via video conference on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the measures to be taken in the face of the crisis.
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