Covid-19 is ravaging Brazil, but the country’s sweaty, fashy president, Jair Bolsonaro, refuses to do jack shit about it.
Brazil is smashing through its own sorry records on the pandemic with health ministry data logging just shy of 4,200 deaths on Tuesday, which CNN reported is the highest in the world for that 24-hour period and brings the confirmed death toll throughout the country to around 337,000. Confirmed infections on Tuesday were 87,000, bringing the total number of known cases in Brazil to 13,100,580. Bolsonaro, who managed to survive the virus last year, has mocked the idea of imposing a national lockdown even as uproar builds in the medical community over his refusal to do so.
Brazil’s leading public health institute, Fiocruz, has warned that lockdown measures are a “bitter but absolutely necessary pill in moments of crisis and the collapse of the health system, such as the country is experiencing now,” Agence France-Presse reported. A group of leading Brazilian academic experts on public health recently published an article in the British Medical Journal saying Bolsonaro’s government had plunged the nation into an “unprecedented health catastrophe.” They wrote intensive care units across Brazil are almost entirely full of patients, medication for intubation is nearly depleted, oxygen shortages are growing, and mortality rates have skyrocketed, all while the federal government fiercely opposed lockdown measures and even filed failed suits against three governors who had halted business activities.
The Brazilian Association of Collective Health, which has 20,000 members, published a separate editorial in O Globo on Tuesday demanding the “immediate adoption, without hesitation, of strict restrictive measures,” including a three-week national lockdown.
A more contagious version of the virus first detected in Manaus is driving much of the wave, but yet another more transmissible variant from South Africa was detected in Brazil last month. Officials in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, say they are now digging 600 graves a day to bury coronavirus dead, the Washington Post reports.
According to CNN, Bolsonaro filmed a YouTube video outside the presidential palace in Brasilia on Tuesday mocking claims his government’s widely lambasted response to the crisis amounted to intentional mass killing: “They called me homophobic, racist, fascist, a torturer and now… what is it now? Now I am… someone who kills a lot of people? Genocidal. Now, I’m genocidal.” The next day on a visit to the southern city of Chapeco, Bolsonaro didn’t appear to be taking the matter any more seriously and continued to insist on a policy of inaction.
“We’re not going to accept these policies of ‘stay home, close everything, lock down,’” Bolsonaro told reporters, according to AFP. “There’s not going to be a national lockdown. Our army isn’t going into the streets to force the Brazilian people into their homes.”
The president also reiterated just how unfairly he believes he’s being treated just because he continues to flaunt any and all expert advice on the pathogen killing his constituents: “I think I’m the only world leader taking all this criticism. It would be easier to just follow the masses. That way people don’t accuse you of ‘genocide’ just because I think differently.”
Bolsonaro also took the opportunity to tout his “covid kit,” AFP wrote, a melange of various medications that scientific studies have repeatedly and unquestionably shown do not actually provide protection against or cure covid-19. Those include some of the drugs promoted by Donald Trump, such as the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin. The authors of the BMJ article noted that aside from being quite ineffective, Bolsonaro’s special cocktail is possibly causing renal failure and liver damage:
Bolsonaro keeps holding public gatherings, promoting scientific denialism, and defending the early use of ineffective drugs against covid-19. The so-called “Covid kit,” promoted by the federal government, includes hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, ivermectin, and anticoagulants, and may cause haemorrhage, renal failure, and arrhythmias. In Sao Paulo, at least five patients who were prescribed the “early treatment” have entered the liver transplant line and three have died from hepatitis.
Bolsonaro has decided to take action on at least one front: silencing medical researchers and members of other scientific fields who have dared to criticise him. Per Science Mag, anticorruption officials threatened leading epidemiologist and former Federal University of Pelotas rector Pedro Hallal with the loss of his job in February for calling Bolsonaro’s antivaccination rhetoric “despicable,” while the education ministry tried to order the rectors of all 69 federal universities to “prevent and punish political-partisan acts.” Many leading Brazilian scientists have reportedly received inquiries from prosecutors or death threats, including an infectious disease specialist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and a biologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research who was attacked in November with a “pointy object.”