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Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, said local leaders who were locking down cities amid the coronavirus outbreak were committing a “crime.”
Latin America’s largest nation has reported 2,433 cases and 57 deaths, and public health experts have warned the outbreak could trigger a collapse of the health care system in a month.
“Other viruses have killed many more than this one and there wasn’t all this commotion,” Bolsonaro, departing from the advice of his own Health Ministry, told reporters outside his official residence, according to Reuters. “What a few mayors and governors are doing is a crime. They’re destroying Brazil.”
“If we don’t get back to work, Brazil could depart from democratic normalcy,” citing examples of social unrest across Latin America.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s national security adviser, Augusto Heleno, on Wednesday cut his medically advised quarantine short, returning to work just seven days into a 14-day quarantine after a positive coronavirus test. Heleno also attended cabinet meetings on the day of his test, Reuters reported.
At least 23 in Bolsonaro's circle, including his U.S. ambassador, chief foreign policy adviser and communications chief, have contracted the virus.
On Tuesday the conservative president also played down the threat of the virus, in a contentious national address he told Brazilians: “90 percent of us will have no symptoms if contaminated.” He added that his “history as an athlete” meant he would suffer from no more than “a little flu” if infected.
Senate President Davi Alcolumbre called Bolsonaro’s speech “grave” and warned that it went against the advice of the World Health Organization. He called for “leadership that is serious, responsible and committed to the life and health of its people.”
Both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s most populous and most affected states, have begun shutting down non-essential business and public gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.
Both the electricity sector and the agriculture sector said they were suffering due to the coronavirus. Still, the Economy Ministry has said it would not take on long-term debt in order to rescue the economy. A top official said that there was no capacity for huge fiscal packages to fight coronavirus.
Even gangs in Brazil have stepped up to stop the spread of coronavirus, imposing curfews. Gangs in Brazil's poorest neighborhoods, favelas, have imposed curfews. In Cidade de Deus (City of God), gangs have stepped up curfew enforcement after the first coronavirus case was reported.
“The (drug) traffickers are doing this because the government is absent. The authorities are blind to us,” one resident told the Guardian.