Has Bolsonaro Got Brazil’s Coronavirus Response All Wrong?

Brazil now has 9,056 confirmed Covid-19 cases and the virus has affected famous singers, actors, government ministers and even Brazilian President Jair Bolosonaro’s press secretary Fabio Wajngarten.

However, Bolsonaro is refusing to take this crisis seriously. He leads a country of 210 million people and so far he has distributed 54,000 tests, which is an underwhelming response to the situation.

Brazil’s Vulnerability to Covid-19

Yet Brazil’s own lockdown proved to be difficult to implement and the President was keen for it to last for a short period of time. Many Brazilian workers complained about income losses and others struggled to self-isolate. Long-term lockdowns are economically devastating and tend to hit the poorest citizens the hardest, which is why it is in the President’s best interests to get the Brazilian economy moving again.

Considering Brazil’s population size of 209 million, the 359 deaths so far are a relatively much smaller amount than other nations like the United States, but that does not mean the number of Covid-19 deaths may not rise rapidly in a short space of time.

Albert Ko, who is a professor of epidemiology and a department chair at the Yale School of Medicine, told The Guardian that widespread testing ensured that Taiwan, South Korea and Germany were able to prevent the pandemic’s rise.

Why Has Brazil’s Medical Sector Failed to Prepare for Covid-19?

Many nations like the UK are beginning to ensure that there is widespread Covid-19 testing and even US President Donald Trump is starting to take the virus more seriously. Bolsonaro’s laissez-faire attitude to the coronavirus is not the main reason why the Brazilian Government has got its response to the disease so wrong, however.

Brazil’s healthcare industry has always faced numerous problems and shortcomings. Brazil has suffered from outbreaks of Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever in recent years. However, the past three presidents, whose political allegiances have varied, have cut funding for science and technology. Therefore, the decline of the Brazilian healthcare system cannot be blamed on one particular party. As a result, the country is now competing in international markets to purchase the test ingredients that it needs.

Brazil’s health ministry stated in an email that 15 million molecular tests are necessary to test much of the country’s population, yet so far they have confirmed that only 40,000 more were being delivered.

As Bolsonaro recently ordered people to “get back to work,” people are seeking more reliable information from sources like Brazil’s largest newspaper, the Folha de S Paulo, which has experienced a 70 million readership surge since the Covid-19 outbreak. Clearly many Brazilians want to be informed about the best ways to beat this disease.

14 million Brazilians live in densely populated poor neighborhoods called favelas where there is no basic sanitation and very limited medical coverage. This leaves many people vulnerable to diseases like coronavirus. According to Sky News, Brazil’s Senate passed a bill guaranteeing some of the country’s poorest citizens an income of 600 Rials ($112 USD) per month for three months, which would cost the country about 50 billion Rials. These measures will not help those people who need access to more sanitation, however, lifting them out of poverty in the long-term will.

What Can Brazil Do in the Future to Prevent Pandemics?

Many governors are taking matters into their own hands. Bolsonaro lashed out at Rio de Janeiro’s Governor, Wilson Witzel, who defied Bolsonaro’s relaxation of restrictions and ordered the province’s 17 million citizens to stay away from beaches. Closing down avenues where people are likely to gather, particularly in the warm weather, has always been the best response to prevent the disease from spreading. The President has gone too far in interfering with the way states have responded to Covid-19 and putting the market above public health.

Poor sanitation, poverty and an inadequate healthcare system are the three main reasons why Brazil has failed to stem the number of Covid-19 cases. If Bolsonaro is serious about preventing another wide-scale pandemic again, he must reform the nation’s healthcare industry and lift more citizens out of poverty. That will be the test for his leadership once this crisis is over.