How long can we live under lockdown?

Aerial view of empty Guanabara Park during the coronavirus outbreak, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on April 5, 2020.

The first thing you notice when you wake up in the American suburbs is what’s missing – the music of modern life. There is no cracking in the gears of a better school bus, nor is there an increasing groan from the engine of an airplane over the pilot as he approaches Washington National Airport. The whine of an ambulance siren can take you to a dark place.

For all the images of the reopening of beaches and demonstrators without masks demanding their freedoms, the most remarkable aspect of the American quasi-locking is how complete it is: from this weekend, more than 97% of Americans were under some kind of confinement and most of them comply. Nothing like this has ever happened on such a large scale in American history.

Empty Pennsylvania Avenue with the U.S. Capitol on April 15, 2020.
Distrust of the government is part of the American DNA, so one would have expected more rebellion. The governor of Georgia has already announced his intention to open his state in defiance of medical logic from Friday. But polls suggest that a majority of Americans are not yet ready for normalcy. Their altruism saves lives. Although the death toll in the United States is staggering – more than 42,000 and rising – hospital admissions are slowing in hot spots like New York, New Orleans and Detroit.

But if infections slow down, it will be harder and harder for mayors and governors to keep people off the streets – especially as the economic pain stings deeper and the President acclaims its reopening. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that it was only “half time”. But he and other local leaders know that adhering to any timetable always depends on the goodwill of a critical mass of citizens.

Meanwhile in Brazil …

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks after joining his supporters to protest the quarantine and social distancing measures on April 19, 2020.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro cannot literally keep his mouth shut. On Sunday, he coughed several times while addressing supporters during a maskless rally. Earlier this month, he was photographed wiping his nose with the back of his hand before shaking the hand of an elderly woman. Last month, a newspaper featured a front page photo of him salivating while he spoke.

But for his critics, the biggest problem is what he says. Bolsonaro repeatedly clashed with state governors as they closed schools, suspended public transportation, and shut down all but essential businesses to try to contain the deadly coronavirus.

Bolsonaro even joined protesters outside the army headquarters in Brasilia on Sunday demanding an end to the lockdown. Many urged the military to close Congress and the Supreme Court because of their support for mitigation measures.

The president hailed the protesters as “patriots” and said their freedom should be guaranteed. “These are the people who are in power,” he said.

Faced with a growing contraction on Monday, Bolsonaro defended his participation in the rally, saying he had not personally called for the dismantling of other branches of government. “Usually when people conspire against someone it is to reach a position of power,” he said. “I am already in power. I am already president.”

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