AFP/Reuters/Rio de Janeiro
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro yesterday said some governors and mayors were guilty of crimes for organising coronavirus shutdowns that threaten to “destroy” Brazil’s economy, and urged businesses to re-open to survive the crisis.
As the coronavirus spreads deeper into Brazil, Bolsonaro has increasingly taken the view, shared by US President Donald Trump, that jobs must be prioritised over the economically damaging shutdowns favoured by public health experts.
Both Trump and Bolsonaro have staked their presidencies on the economy, and both know any major downturn could be catastrophic for their chances of re-election.
“If companies don’t produce, they won’t pay salaries. If the economy collapses, public workers also won’t receive anything. We need to open businesses and do everything to preserve the health of the old,” Bolsonaro tweeted early yesterday.
Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, is under growing pressure for his handling of the outbreak, with protesters banging pots and pans across Brazil more or less nightly.
Opinion polls show his popularity is dropping.
Bolsonaro’s new pro-business position solidified in a widely criticised address to the nation on Tuesday in which he minimised the likely impact of the “little flu” in Brazil, and urged mayors and state governors to roll back lockdown measures that have brought Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to near standstills.
Many believed the speech backfired.
“In this serious moment, the country needs a leadership that is serious, responsible and committed to the life and health of its population,” senate leader Davi Alcolumbre said in a subsequent statement. “We consider the position expressed by the president to be grave...Now more than ever, the nation expects from the executive leader transparency, seriousness and responsibility.”
Even former political allies have reacted with horror to his pro-business stance.
Speaking yesterday in Brasilia, Bolsonaro again criticised governors for putting in place lockdown measures. “What some governors and some mayors in Brazil are doing is a crime. They are destroying Brazil,” Bolsonaro said.
“What do we need to do? Put these people to work, preserve the elderly, preserve those who have health problems, nothing more than that,” he said.
Coronavirus deaths in Brazil on Tuesday rose to 46 from 34, and the number of cases rose to 2,201 from 1,891, according to government figures.
But despite the rising toll, Bolsonaro said most people, including himself, had nothing to fear from Covid-19.
“In my particular case, with my history as an athlete, if I were infected with the virus, I would have no reason to worry, I would feel nothing, or it would be at most just a little flu,” he said.
Bolsonaro on Tuesday took aim at the “hysteria” over the coronavirus and urged that life must continue and jobs be preserved.
He said the terrible situation in Italy would not be repeated in Brazil because of the Latin American country’s younger population and warmer climate.
Italy has had more people die of the coronavirus than any other country, with the death toll rising to 6,820 on Tuesday.
Wanderson de Oliveira, a health ministry official, told reporters Brazil would vastly expand testing in the coming days.
Economic prospects for Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, are worsening amid the pandemic.
Data showed consumer confidence fell to a three-year low in March, and retail sales in January declined at the fastest rate in over a year, indicating consumer spending was off to a weak start in 2020, even before the coronavirus outbreak.
Two of Brazil’s top airlines said they would cut more than 90% of their domestic flights until at least May.
The slowdown is set to worsen as Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, began a two-week lockdown on Tuesday.
The state government ordered all non-essential services and businesses to close.
The city’s usually gridlocked streets were quiet.
Buses still ran and construction was allowed to continue in a bid to avoid complete economic collapse in the country’s economic powerhouse.
Restaurants were open for takeout and delivery workers whizzed through the thinning traffic on bikes and scooters.
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