President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously, even though more than 17,500 Brazilians have already died from the virus. And the number of cases continues to grow exponentially.
This past weekend scores of young revelers were out and about in Rio de Janeiro, enjoying the nightlife and gathering for beers along the city’s famous beach promenades. No one was wearing the obligatory face mask. After two months of widespread lockdown measures, residents of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods were happy to be out of the house, apparently unconcerned about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
But in the city’s poor neighborhoods, where the coronavirus has been spreading rapidly, people are frightened. A shop clerk who delivers groceries to quarantined locals by bike hopes wearing a mask and washing his hands with disinfectant will keep him safe. His wife, who ordinarily works as a cleaner for wealthy Rio families, has been staying home out of fear of contracting the virus. The couple can barely make ends meet.
As of May 19 Brazil had recorded the world’s third-highest number of COVID-19 infections, with more than 262,000 confirmed cases and at least 17,500 deaths attributed to the pandemic, according to official figures collected by Johns Hopkins University.
But health experts believe that, due to a lack of testing, the real number of infections is likely 15 times higher. They also suspect that at least twice as many people have died from the virus; with state hospitals at overcapacity, an increasing number of COVID-19 victims are dying in their homes.
The number of coronavirus cases is growing exponentially, and footage of mass graves in the cities of Manaus and Sao Paulo have gone around the world. Yet despite this escalating public health crisis, President Jair Bolsonaro appears unconcerned.
Nothing more than a ‘little flu’
Bolsonaro has downplayed COVID-19 as nothing more than a “little flu,” and accused China of stoking hysteria. He believes the pandemic has been orchestrated exclusively to harm him and US President Donald Trump. To show that he wasn’t worried, Bolsonaro and his delegation made an official visit to meet with Trump in early March. But after returning from his trip to Florida, more than 20 of Bolsonaro’s aides tested positive for COVID-19 — a public relations disaster for the president.
Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper and athlete, has been ignoring health advice issued by the World Health Organization and his very own health authorities to practice physical distancing. He has made a point of shaking the hands of supporters and taking selfies with them, as they gather outside the presidential palace each Sunday to call for an end to coronavirus restrictions. Bolsonaro has publicly stated that with his “history as an athlete,” he would only suffer light symptoms from a SARS-CoV-2 infection.