As Brazil’s COVID-19 Deaths Soar, Pressure Piles on Bolsonaro

On Thursday, March 25, Brazil registered a daily record of over 100,000 new coronavirus cases, highlighting the immense scale of a rapidly spreading outbreak that is becoming a major political crisis for President Jair Bolsonaro. According to the Health Ministry, the record caseload – along with approximately 3,000 additional COVID-19 deaths – comes merely 24 hours after Brazil surpassed 300,000 deaths from the virus. Following the United States, Brazil has the world’s largest death toll from the pandemic, causing the nation’s worst humanitarian, health, and economic crises.

To date, Brazil has reported that more than 12 million people in total have been infected, including far-right, virus-skeptical Bolsonaro. Having set weekly and daily records, the country’s lack of coordination, patchy vaccine rollout, and inability to counter new infectious variants have drawn sharp criticism from activists and senior policymakers alike. Critics are increasingly blaming Bolsonaro for his inadequate handling of the pandemic, having barred lockdowns, rejected masks, and propagated doubts over vaccines.

In a scathing attack against Bolsonaro on March 26, Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva exclaimed that Brazil’s more than 300,000 COVID-19 deaths amount to the “biggest genocide” in its national history. Adding that Bolsonaro lied to citizens about the pandemic, Lula underscored that “Brazil will not withstand it if this man continues to govern in this way….We must save Brazil from COVID-19.”

Beyond being heavily criticized, President Bolsonaro’s anti-science response to the pandemic has led to calls for him to be tried for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. With thousands of deaths per day and collapsing healthcare systems, vaccinations have become urgently vital to Brazilians, but because the Bolsonaro administration has not taken the crisis seriously, vaccination rollout has been abysmal. According to the Our World in Data tracker, less than two percent of the county’s population have been fully vaccinated. With returning to “normal” nowhere in sight, the nation’s economy has only deteriorated. As Al Jazeera reports, Brazil’s unemployment rate is expected to stand at 14.6 percent in 2021, which is the highest rate in the country’s recent history. Bolsonaro’s continued neglect of his desperately suffering country has only exacerbated these issues, leading many to believe that his actions are criminal.

In response to mounting criticism and pleas to ramp up vaccinations, Bolsonaro’s actions have also become increasingly authoritarian, furthering calls for his removal. Over the past year, Bolsonaro has utilized legislation from the military dictatorship era to intimidate, silence, and persecute his opponents. Additionally, he attempted to use the judiciary branch as a scapegoat for his administration’s failed coronavirus response and falsely claimed that the Supreme Federal Court has prevented him from enacting effective public health policies. Bolsonaro’s incompetent reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Brazil to suffer, and the President has consistently demonstrated that he does not feel responsible for this failure. 

According to the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa Etienne, “the dire situation in Brazil is also affecting neighboring countries,” as cases have risen in border regions of Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia. As the virus continues to surge dangerously across the country and into others, extensive pressure must continue to be placed on Bolsonaro in order to hold him accountable for the crises he engendered. Now more than ever, the Brazilian government must reverse course and take the pandemic seriously, or else the country might suffer diplomatically as well.