Pandemic politics costing lives in Brazil

Published May 12, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Agence France-Presse

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro keeps saying coronavirus fears are overblown. Other officials at the federal, state and local levels insist the danger is all too real.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's (pictured May 6, 2020) criticism of stay-at-home measures to fight the virus has put him at odds with state and local authorities across Brazil, not to mention his own former health minister (AFP/File / EVARISTO SA / MANILA BULLETIN)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s (pictured May 6, 2020) criticism of stay-at-home measures to fight the virus has put him at odds with state and local authorities across Brazil, not to mention his own former health minister (AFP/File / EVARISTO SA / MANILA BULLETIN)

Brazil is torn by a deep political divide over how to respond to the pandemic, and it is taking a heavy human toll.

On Saturday, even as the death toll in Brazil crossed the threshold of 10,000, Bolsonaro continued pressing to get the country back to work.

“The army of unemployed keeps growing,” he tweeted.

“Is chaos coming?” added the far-right leader, who has compared the virus to a “little flu” and condemned the “hysteria” surrounding it.

Some argue the “chaos” is already here — at least as far as the Brazilian government’s response goes.

Bolsonaro’s criticism of stay-at-home measures to fight the virus has put him at odds with state and local authorities across Brazil, not to mention his own former health minister.

The president sacked the latter, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, last month after a long series of public spats.

Meanwhile, Brazil has emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America, with 11,519 deaths so far.

Experts say under-testing means the real figure is likely far higher, and that things stand to get a lot worse.

“We know from history that anytime there’s such a cacophony in a situation like this, such huge disagreement on public policy among leaders, tragedy ensues,” said Brazilian historian Sidney Chalhoub, a professor at Harvard University.

As an example, he cited the last major cholera outbreak in Europe, in the late 19th century, that killed more than 10,000 people in Hamburg, Germany.

“It was largely caused by divisions between the local political elite and dominant economic interests, which trumped public health concerns. And the result was an even bigger economic catastrophe,” he said.

 
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