Bolsonaro says he 'wouldn't feel anything' if infected with coronavirus, dismisses pandemic as media fantasy
Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been slammed for claiming he "wouldn't feel anything" if he were infected with the novel coronavirus and criticizing what he said were "scorched-earth" tactics being used by the states around the country for slowing it down.
In an address on March 24 night that commentators said was "political suicide broadcast live on national radio and television," Bolsonaro said the drastic measures being used to contain the outbreak were economically damaging and attacked the media for spreading a "feeling of dread."
The speech came just after both, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, two of the country's biggest cities, were placed under partial lockdown by municipal and state authorities who fear the number of cases will skyrocket in the coming days.
João Doria, the governor of São Paulo, which is Brazil's most populous and economically important state, has declared a 15-day quarantine period that will affect around 46 million of the country's 210 million citizens.
Rio's Mayor Marcello Crivella, on the other hand, has resorted to more desperate tactics and ordered an indefinite shutdown of the city's commerce and schools. Rio's Governor Wilson Witzel has introduced similar measures to combat the virus.
Brazil has reported more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 and 46 deaths so far, but Bolsonaro has continued to insist it will "soon pass" and dismissed the pandemic as a media "fantasy" and "trick."
He also condemned the media for causing panic by reporting the numbers from Italy, which is the worst affected country outside mainland China and has over 63,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
"Our lives have to go on," he said in the address. "Jobs must be kept … we must, yes, get back to normal. A small number of state and municipal authorities must abandon their scorched-earth ideas: the banning of public transport, the closing of commerce and mass confinement."
"What is happening around the world has shown that the at-risk group are those over 60 years," he continued. "So why close schools? … Ninety percent of us will show no sign [of infection] if we are infected."
While many expected the address would be about Bolsonaro confirming he had the novel coronavirus himself — the military hospital where he was tested had withheld two names from a list of positive cases for "secrecy" — it just featured more of his signature misplaced grandstanding.
"In my particular case, because of my background as an athlete, I wouldn’t need to worry if I was infected by the virus," he said. "I wouldn’t feel anything or at the very worst it would be like a little flu or a bit of a cold."
Bolsonaro's speech lasted all of five minutes, but the incendiary nature sparked protests in both Rio and São Paulo. Many believe it may even be the end of his political career, with Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, tweeting in the aftermath, "Pray for Brazil."
"The first political suicide broadcast live on national radio and television," tweeted Ricardo Noblat, a prominent Brazilian journalist.