Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said that people needed to “stop whining” about COVID-19 in his latest outburst against the protective measures to contain the crisis.
The far-right leader’s comments come as Brazil goes through its deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 1,900 deaths per day.
“Enough with the Fussiness, Stop the “Mimimi. Stop whining. How long are you going to keep crying about it?” Bolsonaro said as he called for easing restrictions. “We regret the deaths … But where’s Brazil going to end up if we just close everything?”
The South American country of 212 million people has had an outbreak of cases, partly due to a variant of the virus detected in the Amazon rainforest.
Bolsonaro previously compared Covid-19 to a “little flu” and promoted hydroxychloroquine as medication, despite studies showing its inefficiency against the virus.
At least 260,000 people died in Brazil because of Covid-19.
What reaction has there been to President Bolsonaro’s comments?
The comments were met with a furious response from São Paulo’s governor, João Doria, who has been particularly scathing of Mr. Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
Mr Doria called President Bolsonaro “a crazy guy” for attacking “governors and mayors who want to buy vaccines and help the country to end this pandemic”.
“How can we face the problem, seeing people die every day? The health system in Brazil is on the verge of collapse,” Mr Doria said.
President Bolsonaro has consistently opposed quarantine measures introduced by governors, arguing that the collateral damage to the economy will be worse than the effects of the virus itself.
“Unfortunately, Brazil has to fight, at this moment, two viruses: the coronavirus and Bolsonaro virus. This is a sadness for the Brazilians,” Mr Doria said.
A Deadlier Variant
The coronavirus pandemic has worsened considerably in Brazil. One reason is the Manaus variant of the coronavirus but there are others. Experts say a hard lockdown is needed to prevent disaster.
The numbers are alarming. On Tuesday, a new daily record was broken when 1,726 people died of COVID-19 in Brazil. The average death rate over the past week was 1,274. That’s almost 25% higher than two weeks ago.
“We are currently experiencing the worst moment of the pandemic, with daily death tolls breaking new records and overburdened intensive care units all over the country,” microbiologist Natalia Pasternak informed.
Over 257,000 Brazilians have died of COVID-19 already. But the spread of the virus has picked up dramatically. On Tuesday, almost 60,000 new cases were registered.
Earlier this year, it took 34 days for the death toll to rise from an average of 1,000 per day to 1,100. But then it was only three days before this had risen to 1,200.
Experts assume that the situation has been exacerbated by the P.1 variant first detected in Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas. On Monday, researchers from Oxford University and the Institute of Tropical Medicine in São Paulo, along with other institutes, published preliminary results that found this variant is between 1.4 and 2.2 times more transmissible than the original virus.
Furthermore, it is thought that even patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can get it again and transmit it.
Pasternak said that the reason why this variant was even able to emerge lay with the lack of measures to combat the coronavirus in Brazil and the lax attitude to protective measures.
“Like all variants, the Manaus variant emerged because the virus was able to circulate uncontrolled,” she said.
“So, it cannot be said that the variant itself caused the rising numbers. Precautionary measures were lifted, and people did not isolate, which has led to variants that are more contagious and thus more likely to fuel the spread of the disease.
The arrival of Covid-19 vaccines should not tempt countries to relax efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, top World Health Organization officials said on Friday, citing concern that Brazil’s epidemic could spread to other countries.
“We think we’re through this. We’re not,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, told an online briefing. “Countries are going to lurch back into third and fourth surges if we’re not careful.”
Record Covid-19 deaths have been reported in Brazil this week and its hospital system is on the brink of collapse, driven partly by a more contagious variant first identified there.
On a global level, Covid-19 case numbers reversed a six-week downwards trend last week despite the delivery of millions of doses of vaccines in recent weeks, WHO data showed.
“Now is not the time for Brazil or anywhere else for that matter to be relaxing,” Ryan added. “The arrival of vaccines is a moment of great hope but it is also potentially a moment where we lose concentration.”
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the epidemic in Brazil as “very, very concerning” and warned of a possible regional spillover.
“If Brazil is not serious, then it will continue to affect all the neighborhood there and beyond,” he said.
Indians Welcome Vaccine
An army helicopter flew to two isolated indigenous villages in Brazil’s Amazon jungle this week with a welcome cargo – coronavirus vaccines.
The Hupda communities lined up to get their shots.
Traditional medicine prescribed by a shaman is highly respected here, but there was no resistance to receiving the vaccine by China’s Sinovac Biotech.
“We are grateful for the vaccination, so we will not catch the disease,” said Hupda chieftain Jorge Pires in the village of Santo Antanasio, near the Colombian border and a 25-minute helicopter flight from the nearest military outpost.
Following criticism by indigenous leaders that echoed internationally last year that their vulnerable communities were being “decimated” by Covid-19, Brazil’s Health and Defense ministries have mounted a vaccination campaign reaching remote reservations and villages.
So far 265,244 indigenous people have had a first dose, and 124,063 the second dose, of 400,000 covered by the ministry’s indigenous health service Sesai.
According to the service, 50,000 indigenous people have been infected and 589 have died from COVID-19.
That does not include half of Brazil’s 800,000 plus indigenous population not covered by Sesai because they have moved off traditional lands and reservations.
Brazil is battling a Covid-19 outbreak that is worsening, with record deaths reported in the last three days, reaching 1,910 dead in 24 hours on Wednesday. So far, 260,000 people have died and 10.8 million infected, the second-deadliest after the United States.
In the second village of Taracuá Igarapé, there have been no cases of Covid-19 thanks to its isolation, but preventing coronavirus from taking hold is paramount to protecting indigenous communities that live under one roof and cannot practice social distancing.
The challenge of reaching 20,000 indigenous people living in a jungle area the size of Portugal is enormous, and requires helicopter travel, because travel by meandering rivers takes days, said Army Colonel Sylvio Doktorczyk.
“When we talk about Amazonia, everything is superlative, including the difficulties! Particularly the great distances and long rivers,” the colonel heading the mission said.
It was a return visit to the two villages to inoculate those that missed the first dose because they were out hunting or fishing, and to gives other their second shot of CoronaVac.
“My people liked to have the vaccine. My community like the vaccine and like when medical people come here,” said Jovino Pinoa, after getting his second shot.