Known for his extreme views, the 65-year-old leader has been facing flak for his handling of the pandemic in Brazil, which is currently the worst-hit country after the United States, both in terms of cases and deaths.
Repeatedly undermining the severity of the crisis, Bolsonaro has opposed state governors who have implemented lockdowns, called the coronavirus a left-wing ploy to oust him, and labelled the World Health Organization (WHO) a “partisan political organisation”.
Brazil and the coronavirus: how things got here
Since the pandemic reached Brazil, Bolsonaro has clashed with state leaders who have been striving to prevent local hospitals from becoming overburdened. A staunch opponent of quarantine measures, the president has participated in several events with hundreds of attendees.
To make his point, Bolsonaro has hugged his supporters and openly encouraged them to defy social distancing rules. Downplaying the severity of the pandemic, he has repeatedly called it “just a little flu or the sniffles”.
“People are going to die, I’m sorry. But we can’t stop a car factory because there are traffic accidents,” the president has said.
A chronology of events
Early in March, Bolsonaro visited the United States, and met top officials, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. He also dined with Trump at the latter’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, during which none of the leaders wore a mask. After the visit was over, several members of Bolsonaro’s team tested positive for Covid-19, and a former Brazilian health minister lambasted it as a “corona trip”.
That same month, when cases in Brazil were in double digits, Bolsonaro proclaimed, “I am not a doctor, I am not a specialist. What I have heard so far is that other flu have killed more than this”.
After there were rumours that Bolsonaro could be positive himself, he argued that if infected, his “athlete’s history” would provide him immunity, and that he would “feel nothing, or at the most, it would be like having a cold”.
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When cases crossed 5,000 in the last week of April, Bolsonaro fended off criticism from Brazil’s neighbours, saying he was under no obligation to “perform miracles”. On May 9, the number had doubled to 10,000. In the same month, neighbouring Paraguay called Brazil a “great threat”, with Argentina too echoing its concern.
On June 7, the country’s health ministry was criticised after it removed the total coronavirus figures from a government website, announcing that it would only report cases and deaths of the past 24 hours. Bolsonaro defended the move, saying that the cumulative data “does not reflect the moment the country is in”.
The country’s supreme court soon intervened, ordering Bolsonaro to resume publishing complete data.
To make matters worse, Bolsonaro has also bickered with prominent cabinet colleagues.
In mid-April, Bolsonaro fired his health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who had asked Brazilians to follow WHO guidelines about the coronavirus, and had been compared with Trump’s top health advisor Dr Anthony Fauci. Mandetta was shunted out of the cabinet after he disagreed with Bolsonaro over lockdown measures. A month later in May, the next health minister, the oncologist Nelson Teich, also resigned.
Both health ministers had opposed Bolsonaro’s insistence on opening the economy, as well as his reliance on hydroxychloroquine — a drug that has been promoted by Trump despite concerns by experts. After Teich’s departure, the ministry is being run by Eduardo Pazuello, a serving army general appointed in an interim capacity. Critics have slammed Bolsonaro for strengthening the military’s role in government, and for undermining the nation’s judiciary.
On Tuesday, even as he announced to the Brazilian press that he had tested positive for Covid-19, Bolsonaro took off his mask to show he was doing fine. The video of the incident is being widely shared on social media, with people criticising him for the gesture.
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