Fresh off a trip to the United States that included a visit with Donald Trump, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is adopting his American counterpart’s conspiratorial response to the coronavirus pandemic even as it continues to worsen in South America’s largest country.
On Tuesday in Miami, Bolsonaro told reporters that coronavirus concerns, which along with falling oil prices have roiled Brazilian financial markets, were a “fantasy” concocted by the media.
“During the past year, obviously, we have had moments of crisis,” Bolsonaro said, according to Reuters. “A lot of that is fantasy. And coronavirus, which is not all the mainstream media makes it out to be.”
He adopted another of Trump’s early talking points on Wednesday, saying that fears over COVID-19, as the disease is known, were inflated because “other forms of flu killed more than this” illness has.
There are 69 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Brazil, with at least 900 more suspected cases. More than 900 additional suspected cases have already been ruled out, according to Brazil’s Ministry of Health.
As the Brazilian president shrugs, the pandemic is clearly threatening his country, and even Bolsonaro himself — he is now under observation and testing for the virus.
Bolsonaro’s statements “show a president disconnected from the real world,” Bernardo Mello Franco, a columnist at Brazil’s O Globo newspaper, wrote on Thursday. “While other leaders announce measures to tackle the virus, Bolsonaro tries to deny its seriousness.”
“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large COVID-19 clusters or community transmission is not whether they can [control the outbreaks], it’s whether they will,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the Wednesday press conference in which he declared the coronavirus outbreaks a pandemic.
Bolsonaro and Trump struck up a convenient friendship after the Brazilian, modeling his pitch in part on the American’s, won election in 2018. Like Trump, Bolsonaro routinely accuses the media of peddling “fake news” meant to cripple his presidency. Having remained largely silent as the coronavirus initially spread to Brazil earlier in March, he has leaned into that anti-media strategy this week as the global crisis has worsened ― and as the illness has possibly spread into his own administration.
On Wednesday, a top Bolsonaro official was tested for COVID-19 after returning home from the presidential trip to Florida, according to Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper.
Fabio Wajngarten, Bolsonaro’s top communications official, attended a dinner meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort alongside Bolsonaro during the Florida visit. Wajngarten was photographed with Trump at the resort.
“I am fine,” Wajngarten tweeted Wednesday night after the news was published. His tweet blamed the reports on “rotten” members of the press whom he accused of constantly trying to bring him down.
Wajngarten tested positive for the virus on Thursday morning.
Bolsonaro was also placed under observation, reported Estadao, another Sao Paulo newspaper.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son and a member of Brazil’s National Congress, attended the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington last week. At least one CPAC attendee later tested positive for the coronavirus, and multiple members of the U.S. Congress have self-quarantined in response. It’s unknown whether Eduardo Bolsonaro interacted directly with the infected attendee.
Trump has offered his own lackluster response to the crisis, which he and his supporters also initially blamed on media hysteria meant to weaken his presidency ahead of November’s elections. There are now more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States.
As the number of cases has risen, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Americans that “things will get worse.”
Public health officials in Brazil have voiced similar concern. Dr. Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Brazil’s minister of health, said Wednesday that the country was facing “20 hard weeks” of dealing with the coronavirus, the website UOL reported.
He told members of the Brazilian congress that even if the coronavirus weren’t as lethal there as it has been in other countries, a widespread outbreak could overwhelm parts of the Brazilian health system, especially in poorer and more rural states. (There have been similar worries in the U.S., as HuffPost has reported.)
Mandetta urged states to review and, if necessary, implement contingency plans to deal with the spread of the virus. He’s also seeking more funding in order to purchase more medical supplies to help control the outbreak and urged Brazilians to “be careful,” UOL reported.
Brazil has not yet recommended the cancellation of large public events or gatherings ― unlike in the United States, where governors and mayors have called for or required postponements of concerts, sports and other major events. Such measures would be “irresponsible” based on current levels of infection, Mandetta said, although he added that they could be necessary in the future.
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