After two straight days of record COVID-19 deaths in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday told Brazilians to stop “whining” and move on, in his latest remarks attacking distancing measures and downplaying the gravity of the pandemic.
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll over the past year, after the United States. While the U.S. outbreak is ebbing, Brazil is facing its worst phase of the epidemic yet, pushing its hospital system to the brink of collapse.
“Enough fussing and whining. How much longer will the crying go on?” Bolsonaro told a crowd at an event. “How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution.”
Brazil’s surging second wave has triggered new restrictions in its capital, Brasilia, and its largest city, Sao Paulo. Tourist mecca Rio de Janeiro on Thursday announced a city-wide curfew and early closing time for restaurants.
Particularly worrying to health authorities is the emergence of a new coronavirus variant from the Amazon region that appears more contagious and more able to infect again those who previously had COVID-19.
“We are experiencing the worst outlook for the pandemic since it started,” said Gonzalo Vecina Neto, a medical doctor and former head of Brazilian Health Regulator Anvisa.
“Mutations are the result of the increased reproduction of the virus. The greater the number of viruses, the faster the transmission, the more mutations we have,” he said.
State governors and doctors have complained that the federal government has mismanaged the coronavirus crisis, as Bolsonaro has downplayed its severity and opposed lockdowns. The government’s delay in acquiring and distributing vaccines means that less than 3.5% of the population have had at least one shot.
Nevertheless, Bolsonaro’s popularity has been supported by 322 billion reais ($57.7 billion) in emergency aid payments to poorer Brazilians last year.
The Senate voted on Thursday to renew the aid program at a smaller scale, handing out 250 reais per month for four months, at a cost of up to 44 billion reais. The proposal must still be approved by Brazil’s lower house of Congress.