We are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has spread throughout the world but developing nations with limited resources are more at risk.
All Latin American countries have reported cases but some countries are weathering the storm better than others. Many countries are taking proactive measures including closing borders, imposing curfews, deploying the military and restricting international flights.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized for not taking the public health emergency seriously. He has previously dismissed the pandemic as “hysteria” and “fantasy” while numbers of cases in the country rise.
He travelled to Florida to meet with US President Donald Trump the first weekend of March. Upon returning to Brazil, 14 members of Bolsonaro’s team tested positive for the virus. He says he has been tested twice and was negative both times.
Despite advice from his own health minister he left self-isolation on March 15th to fist-bump and take selfies with his supporters who were rallying in protest of Brazil’s Congress and judiciary system.
Now, on March 22, he continues to downplay concerns surrounding the virus despite the infection rate exceeding 1,500 cases. While his health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, has warned of the impending collapse of the Brazilian health care system, Bolsonaro counters that this is too strong of a word. He’s expressed frustration over states limiting commerce and movement, voicing concerns that this will damage the economy.
Bolsonaro has also been critical of the decision of churches to suspend their services, which makes sense given his rise to power was heavily supported by the evangelical right. In one of my previous blog posts I explore more who Jair Bolsonaro is: a right-wing political veteran who has a history of praising military measures and spouting hateful comments towards women, LGBTQ individuals and Afro- and Indigneous Brazilians. Some have dubbed him the “Trump of the Tropics” for his habit of governing via Twitter and tendency to dispute facts and distribute fake news.
But some experts are on the same page as Bolsonaro, saying that the warmer climate of South America will help beat the disease and that the nation’s demographics are in their favour. Brazil has a young population, the median age is just under 30, and younger people are known to not be as seriously impacted by COVID-19 compared to the elderly.
Prof Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, a Colombian immunology expert, says that cross-contamination is not as much of a concern in South America as in Europe, since communities are not as concentrated.
Others disagree and point to Brazil’s favelas, slums where low-income people are literally stacked on top of each other with entire families sharing one bedroom. It’s in places like these that diseases spread quickly and without intervention as resources are scarce.
On March 18, when cases in the country were only at 500, millions of Brazilians took to their windows and balconies to bang pots and pans (a traditional style of Latin American protest), to voice their discontent over Bolsonaro’s presidency. This was the largest demonstration calling for him to step down yet.
Jair Bolsonaro is a polarizing leader at the best of times. Will his response to COVID-19 have detrimental impacts on his administration or will this be dismissed as merely another one of his inflammatory comments? Only time will tell.