Image Source: AFP
With expanding fears, tensions, and ever increasing loss of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments from around the world have taken measures to address the spread of the virus – from social distancing, social isolation,to mandatory quarantine and in some cases complete lockdown. For the most part the announcement of the pandemic has triggered people, and in particular leaders of countries, states and cities to take preventative action. But the need to take action with the announcement of the pandemic has not been shared equally by governments, either due to denial or negligence.
In Brazil’s case, the actions taken by President Bolsonaro have been ones of total and complete negligence and carelessness in dealing with a public health crisis and putting millions of lives at risk by dismissing a viral pandemic as “a little cold” and calling actions taken by mayors and governors in Brazil as buying into “hysteria.” As of March 28th Brazil had 4,256 confirmed cases and 136 deaths due to COVID-19.
As criticism to the President’s posture increases, states hold their grounds on social isolation measures, and a judicial order issued to halt the spread of misinformation by the federal government, and both the number of cases and death increases, Bolsonaro is turning his dismissive tone of the pandemic towards manipulating the very real concerns and fears of the population in regards to loss of livelihood due to COVID-19. Bolsonaro’s government went as far as developing and launching a campaign against social isolation (which was halted by judicial order on March 28 noting that the campaign is abusive and it can lead the population to behave in harmful or dangerous manners in regards to their health) – #OBrasilNaoPodeParar, “Brazil cannot stop” aimed at getting people to break social isolation guidelines and go back to the streets, go back to work. For a president who ran his campaign and election based on fake news, his commitment to keep the population in a sea of disinformation doesn’t’ come as a shock. However, the propagation of fake news and disinformation coupled with uncoordinated efforts between the federal, state and municipal levels have caused huge confusion amongst the population and weakened social isolation/distancing/stay home measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in people’s lives in Brazil and everywhere – it is beyond a risk to individuals’ health. It has come as a shock to social infrastructure systems – from the health sector, to education, the economy and the social fabrics of how we interact and relate to one another. However, what COVID-19 is also doing is shedding light on years of absent social investments that benefit people in times of crisis and otherwise. It is a public health crisis exacerbated by rampant corruption and deliberate weakening of social protection measures, health and education investments as seen through the Brazilian Constitutional Amendment 95 from 2016 that established a 20 year freeze or ‘expenditure ceiling” on social spending, including for Brazil’s well known Unified Health System. The coronavirus pandemic exposes and aggravates the perpetual poverty, hunger, inequalities, violence and deprivation that millions of brazilians live in.
In a country where 38.4 million people are in the informal economy, 13.5 millions of Brazilians are living in extreme poverty and precariousness, and across favelas in the country, it is inhumane and pure political manipulation to pit the real fear of contracting the virus against the fear of not being able to feed oneself and/or one’s’ family.