Op Ed April 1, 2020
OPINION: Bolsonaro’s controversial coronavirus strategy 

By Fabian Sutch-Daggett - World Healthcare Journal

The coronavirus pandemic has plunged world leaders further into the spotlight than ever before. All measures enacted at a governmental level are intensely scrutinised - no matter if ‘good’ or ‘bad’ -  and rightly so. The effects of such government choices do not just impact the state and wellbeing of a single nation - but quite possibly the whole world.

It is fair to say that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has taken one of the most contentious approaches to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Twitter removed videos from his official account for flaunting social distancing guidelines, mingling with supporters in the streets and markets of Brasilia.

Bolsonaro has been incredibly open with his personal opinions on Covid-19 - dubbing the disease a “little flu”. He referred to his own Governor’s quarantine measures enacted in the cities of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro (currently the two hardest-hit cities in the nation) as “crimes,” branding the media’s response to the pandemic as fearmongering and hysteria. He even claimed that Brazilians would be safe from the virus as they “never catch anything,” and that they may have already developed the antibodies to protect them from the disease - despite providing zero evidence to prove his statement.

Compared to the rest of the world, Brazil is still in the relatively early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, currently reporting around 4,000 cases. However, this does not mean that the nation can afford to be lackadaisical in its approach to handling the crisis.

Fears are already mounting around the impact that coronavirus will have on the indigenous tribes of the Amazon - a wicked cocktail of malnutrition, lack of access to quality healthcare, and a high presence of tropical diseases in the region could decimate the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Even more worryingly, a doctor working with Amazonian tribes has now been confirmed to have contracted coronavirus.

Which begs the question - why is Bolsonaro doing this? He is taking a unique position on the world stage. No one, not even his close political ally in North America, US President Donald Trump - Bolsonaro was nicknamed “The Trump of the Tropics” in his 2018 election campaign - has taken such a controversial approach to tackling coronavirus.

The answer is found in an ill-informed desire to protect the Brazilian economy. Where nearly every other world leader has been asking, urging, and forcing citizens to stay at home, self-isolate with symptoms and social distance at all times, Bolsonaro’s clearest and strongest message to his people is quite simple - keep the economy going.

“If we do not die of the illness, we’ll die of hunger,” said a market vendor to Bolsonaro in the now-removed Twitter posts. “We have to work. There are deaths, but that is up to God, we cannot stop. ”  

"I advocate that you work, everyone works. Of course, anyone who is old stays at home," Bolsonaro said in response to the market vendor.

Bolsonaro’s social media campaign to drive home his  “Brazil can’t stop” message was banned on Saturday by judges. It has attracted widespread criticism from national and local government in the country - even from his own Health Minister, who Bolsanaro reportedly threatened to fire if he criticises him again, following the signing of a letter by 23 of all 25 Brazilian governors urging Bolsonaro to implement stricter virus containment measures.

Whether Bolsonaro genuinely believes that continuing to power the economy will benefit Brazil, or if this is simply political posturing so that when the nation begins to feel the impact of Covid-19 a scapegoat is available, the Brazilian people have made it clear they are not happy.

Numerous protests from people’s balconies and windows have been heard throughout the past weeks, with scared citizens banging pots and pans out of their windows in a collective dissent against the President’s actions. According to AP, as few as 33 per cent of citizens approve of Bolsonaro’s approach - with the real possibility of the figure reducing even further as conditions deteriorate.

Furthermore, projections from researchers at London’s Imperial College for how Brazil will fare suggest that if the nation continues on its current path of no action, more than 1m citizens could die. Even if drastic containment measures are implemented, the research suggests more than 44,000 citizens may die from the virus.

As of today, Brazil’s toll stands at just over 5,812 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and is showing no signs of stopping soon. Whatever direction Bolsonaro decides to follow, one thing is almost certain: Brazil will suffer greatly from coronavirus - and only time will tell how much damage will be incurred.

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