Brazil coronavirus: Timeline of what Bolsonaro said as the virus spread
While Covid-19 raced across Europe, overthrew the British Prime Minister and strangled New York earlier this year, Brazil had plenty of notice that a disaster was on its way. But has the danger been drowned in the megaphone of his bomber President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly said that the virus is a “small flu”?
People around the world are asking their governments how local outbreaks have gotten out of hand. But in Brazil, where the acting health minister is a military general with no health training and where the president personally attends anti-lockout rallies, it is unclear who in the federal government could even deign to answer the question.
A handful of cases
The following week, state governors began to act to contain the spread, shutting down non-essential businesses and activities in Rio, Goias, Sao Paulo and the Federal District. But their precautions raised a red flag for Bolsonaro.
“When you ban football and other things, you fall into hysteria. Banning this and it will not contain the spread,” he told CNN Brasil on March 15. “We have to take action, the virus could get pretty serious But the economy has to work because we can’t have a wave of unemployment.”
The first death
Under the Brazilian federal system, state and city officials have the power to implement regional measures, while the national government oversees broader issues.
But the virus was already spreading internally. On March 17, health officials in Sao Paulo confirmed the country’s first coronavirus death, a 62-year-old man who had traveled to Italy.
Local government efforts to eradicate the virus have been criticized from above, as Bolsonaro mocked unpopular quarantine and shelter measures there.
“Our life must go on. Jobs must be maintained,” Bolsonaro said in a speech broadcast on March 24 on national radio and television.
Bolsonaro also tweeted videos of himself visiting the shopping districts of Brasilia, encouraging people to keep working and stimulating chloroquine, an unproven drug, as a remedy. On March 29, Twitter took the extraordinary step of deleting the messages.
As the cold weather began to set in for fall in Brazil, Bolsonaro again took steps to strengthen the economy and the public health system.
But his words and personal actions continued to believe the work of his government. On April 9, images showed the naked president in a local bakery, hugging supporters and posing with people in disregard of social distancing advice. Crowds could also be heard in the background booing and shouting through the windows of surrounding buildings.
The country killed 1,000 people on April 10.
A series of difficult weeks followed for the Brazilian Ministry of Health: on April 16, after weeks of internal struggles and threats, Bolsonaro dismissed his Minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta. The outgoing minister had been one of the biggest supporters of social isolation in Brazil, backing governors’ decisions to close schools and businesses.
At a press conference after Mandetta’s departure, Bolsonaro praised his work, but insisted that the economy and health at the moment be treated as two diseases. “You cannot treat one and ignore the other,” he said, adding that he had already discussed the need to “open up gradually” with new minister Nelson Teich.
“We were clearly on opposite sides,” Mandetta told CNN Christiane Amanpour a few weeks later. “They thought it would not be more than a thousand (cases). And I think we are going to be far away. I think Brazil may become one of the most numerous cases in the world,” he said. added.
As of April 29, more than 5,000 people have died. Questioned by journalists outside the presidential residence in Brasilia, the president said infamous words: “So what? I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?”
He then added: “I am sorry for the situation we are living in right now because of the virus. We express our solidarity with those who lost loved ones, many of whom were elderly. But that’s life, that’s it could be me tomorrow. “
The infection rate only accelerated in May.
On May 7, Bolsonaro and Guedes issued a statement insisting that quarantine measures must be relaxed or the economy could collapse. Two days later, the death toll from coronaviruses in Brazil exceeded 10,000.
The next day, the new Minister of Health, Nelson Teich, resigned. An oncologist by training, Teich had been in this position for less than a month and would have opposed the promotion of chloroquine as a treatment. Much later, in an interview with Globo News, Teich would also appear to criticize Brazil’s ever-broader definition of essential businesses.
After having two medical experts at the top of the Ministry of Health and endless crisis in sight, Bolsonaro changed course. He chose Eduardo Pazuello – a military general with no medical or public health background – to lead the national fight against the coronavirus as acting minister.
The death toll in Brazil exceeded 15,000 on May 16. On that day, Bolsonaro joined another rally outside his official residence in Brasilia. The video posted on Bolsonaro’s YouTube page showed him wearing a facial mask, shaking hands and even carrying several children.
The next day, Brazil overtook the United Kingdom to become the country with the third highest number of cases in the world.
In a few days, Brazil rose again in the dismal ranking, overtaking Russia hard hit with more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any country in the world, except the United States.
On May 21, 20,000 people died.
That night, when Bolsonaro stopped in a hot dog in Brasilia, his entourage drew a mixture of angry supporters and protesters.
“Killer!” a woman could be heard screaming in the video, captured by local media.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health increased the death toll in Brazil to 25,598.
In recent months, the federal government’s focus on protecting the economy first has been largely confirmed by measures to relieve businesses and inject liquidity into the economy. But while the health ministry has also supported state health systems, the president has undermined local leaders charged with governing the behavior that spreads the virus.
“With the example of the President of Brazil, everything is more difficult for us,” the governor of Sao Paulo, Joao Doria, told CNN’s Isa Soares on Tuesday. “He takes to the streets without a mask. Bad behavior and a bad indication. It is very sad for Brazil and makes everything more difficult for the governors of the states of Brazil.”
But citizens who follow his example can put themselves in danger. Tens of thousands of new cases are diagnosed every day, but compliance with the rules of social distancing seems to be declining. In Sao Paulo, for example, more than 60% of the population initially followed the guidelines for home accommodation, according to city authorities. Last week, less than half stayed at home.
Report by Taylor Barnes, Flora Charner, Claudia Dominguez, Helena DeMoura, Maija Ehlinger, Jonny Hallam and Jennifer Hauser in Atlanta. Shasta Darlington and Nick Paton Walsh reported from Sao Paulo and Manaus. Written by Caitlin Hu in New York.