Jair Bolsonaro
Jair Bolsonaro | Source: Wikimedia Commons
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New Delhi: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has criticised governors and mayors of his country’s largest states and cities for the lockdowns and restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Calling shutdowns in the country a “crime” that was “destroying Brazil”, Bolsonaro Wednesday also downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic by saying: “Other viruses have killed many more than this one and there wasn’t all this commotion.”

His comment soon led to an outrage, with many Brazilians criticising him for his lightweight response and insensitivity in the face of a pandemic.

The country has so far reported 2,433 cases and 57 deaths.

A day earlier, during a televised address to Brazilian citizens, Bolsanaro had also called the shutdowns a “scorched earth policy”. Stating that priority should be on protecting jobs, he ridiculed the media for spreading hysteria and fear mongering.

The President also questioned the need for schools to be shut down.

“The virus arrived, we are confronting it, and it will pass shortly. Our lives have to continue, jobs should be maintained,” Bolsanaro had said.

He told viewers that 90 per cent of Brazilians had nothing to fear since only those over the age of 60 are at risk. He even went on to boast about his own fitness, saying although he was 65, he had no reason to worry as he was an army captain with the “history of an athlete”.

“I would feel nothing. For me, it would be at most just a little flu,” Bolsonaro had said.

His position has angered not only Brazil’s citizens, many of whom have responded by banging pots and pans from their windows in protest, but also his own ministers.

Sao Paulo Governor Joã o Doria has described Bolsanoro’s views as “absolutely mistaken” and “out of tune” with the policies pursued by Brazil’s health ministry. Senate President Davi Alcolumbre similarly said that Brazil needed a “leadership that is serious, responsible and committed to the life and health of its people”.

Also read: With social boycott and fines, Covid-19 is the new ‘untouchability’ in Maharashtra villages

Gangsters take matters into hands

While Bolsanoro has dismissed the severity of the pandemic, it is Brazil’s criminal gangs that have imposed their own lockdowns in the favelas (slums) to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Last week, the ‘City of God’, a sprawling slum complex made famous by the 2002 movie of the same name, reported its first Covid-19 positive case.

Gangsters in the City of God have been driving around the slum, blaring loud messages to its residents.

“We’re imposing a curfew because nobody is taking this seriously….whoever is in the street screwing around or going for a walk will receive a corrective and serve as an example. Better to stay home doing nothing. The message has been given,” one of their messages read.

Many other gangs in Rio de Janeiro’s densely-populated favelas, which are home to about 2 million residents, have issued similar Covid-19 advisories.

In Morro dos Prazeres, gangs have advised residents to only move about in groups of two, while in Rocinha, a curfew has been declared.

In a Santa Maria slum, traffickers have been handing out soap at public water fountains with signboards that read: “Please wash your hands before entering the favela.”

Also read: 83 doctors suspected of Covid-19 want to quarantine, not allowed: Doctors’ body writes to PM


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