As Covid-19 rages through Brazil, its president falls under scrutiny.
At a press conference in Brasilia, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, told reporters that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. A week later, he tested positive again. Often seen in public without a mask, the president long touted that his “athletic history” would protect him from contracting a serious case of COVID-19. Countering, Bolsonaro downplayed the danger of the virus, but his diagnoses came after his administration ignored expert medical guidance for months.
Despite revealing his infection status just moments before, Bolsonaro stood inches away from reporters as he spoke to them at the presidential residence. He told the press that he only felt mildly ill the previous day. In describing his illness, Bolsonaro detailed that he suffered from fever, tiredness, and muscle pains.
The leader stated that he is treating his infection with hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug not proven to cure COVID-19. However, US President Donald Trump endorsed the medicine as a possible antidote. “If it weren’t for the test, I wouldn’t know the result,” he said. After the press conference, he removed his mask and declared, “You can see from my face that I’m well and I’m calm.”
While Bolsonaro regularly referred to the illness as a “little cold,” the coronavirus has now killed over 74,000 Brazilians. Currently, the outbreak in Brazil has made it the second-worst hot zone in the world, only behind the United States.
Of special concern are the conditions of the Brazilian favelas, the country’s poorest sections of the city. João Oliveira of Rio de Janeiro, told Ark Republic that the situation is dire. He reports, “Our government does not provide tests for rich people, much less for poor people.” While it is common knowledge that many favela residents are dying or becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus, Oliveira claimed that since the Ministry of Health rarely receives reports from favelas, those cases go uncounted.
For these and other failures, Brazil is among a list of countries, including the United States and Russia, named in a travel ban from the European Union.
Both Bolsonaro and Trump remained skeptical of the virus’ severity throughout the pandemic, and have been criticized for their leadership during the crisis. Both openly deprecate the World Health Organization and their own medical advisers. As well, they appear in public regularly sans masks. For Bolsonaro, a judge ordered him to use a face shield, but he still refused.
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In response to Bolsonaro, Felipe Neto, a Brazilian content creator turned social activist, drew comparisons between the two leaders in a video produced by the New York Times. Though his YouTube channel began as mostly humor and entertainment, Neto has since become one of the most outspoken voices against Bolsonaro since his 2018 election. On YouTube alone, his audience numbers 34 million subscribers: Brazil’s third-most subscribed channel.
His criticism of Brazil’s conservative politicians previously drew backlash and death threats that forced the commentator’s family to flee the country. Along with his traditional content, Neto still regularly condemns what he sees as “hatred, oppression and violence” from the administration on his social media platforms.
In the New York Times video clip, Neto acknowledged the bad press US President Trump has received. He notably referenced Trump’s June 20 Tulsa rally, attended by about 6,000 people, which may have contributed to a spike in local cases. However, Neto asserted that Bolsonaro is, in fact, the “worst Covid president in the world”.
Brazil’s president has regularly appeared socializing, attending demonstrations and meeting diplomats, world leaders, and friends during the height of the pandemic. Just days before his positive diagnosis, Bolsonaro vetoed parts of a bill that would require masks inside public spaces. The leader, who is of a military background, removed two ministers of health and appointed an army general instead. Brazil’s currency, the real, has plummeted for months as the world watches the nation’s coronavirus case count rise to 1.6 million.
Neto does not believe his country reached this point alone. In his talk, he accused Trump of using Brazil and its president as “proxies.” Additionally, the social commentator stated that Trump’s approval of the Brazilian government only “legitimizes” Bolsonaro and his deadly antics. Also, Neto called for his audience to “vote to keep Trump out of the White House” in November. He surmises that wherever the American president will go, Brazilians will follow. Addressing Americans, he pleaded for change: “You’re the world leader in Covid deaths, and right now, you’re leading us into the abyss.”
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