The Irish Times view on coronavirus in Brazil: a death every minute

The authoritarian president has done his best to undermine lockdown efforts while promoting Covid-19 scepticism and phoney remedies

A supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro wears a face mask with Bolsonaro’s image during a demonstration at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. Photograph: CArl de SouzaAFP via Getty Images

A supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro wears a face mask with Bolsonaro’s image during a demonstration at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. Photograph: CArl de SouzaAFP via Getty Images

 

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro was right in one respect. He tweeted on Saturday that virus statistics are “not representative” of the country’s current situation. But instead of trying to make the country’s grossly underreported figures more accurate by improving testing, Bolsonaro has taken the less embarrassing way out and stopped publishing cumulative figures for deaths and infections.

The federal health ministry website now publishes just the figures for the last day; on Saturday it recorded only that there were 27,075 new cases and 904 deaths in the previous 24 hours. A Bolsonaro ally has justified the suspension of reporting with claims that false figures had been supplied to the ministry by regional governors to secure more funding. Epidemiologists say Brazil’s statistical problem, however, is not overcounting, but severe undercounting.

Health staff work at the Doctor Ernesto Che Guevara Public Hospital in Marica city, state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images
Health staff work at the Doctor Ernesto Che Guevara Public Hospital in Marica city, state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Brazil’s last official numbers showed it had recorded over 34,000 deaths related to the coronavirus since mid-March, and 615,000 infections, the third-highest numbers in the world. That means that a Brazilian is now dying from Covid-19 every minute, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper reports. And in a move that mimicked Donald Trump, Bolsonaro also threatened on Friday to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organisation after the UN agency warned about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the disease. Brazil will consider leaving the WHO unless it ceases to be a “partisan political organisation,” Bolsonaro warned.

The authoritarian president, who has done his best to undermine lockdown efforts and promoted coronavirus scepticism and phoney remedies, has joined rallies calling on the army to overthrow congress and the courts to allow him to rule untrammelled. Brazil faces a twin challenge of monumental proportions: a pandemic that is out of control and a teetering democracy. The common thread, a president whose reckless disregard for science, the rule of law and democratic values threatens a catastrophic implosion in this country of 220 million.

Phase two: Tell us what you are up to today as restrictions ease

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