Thousands of protesters gather throughout Brazil’s major cities against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s catastrophic misdirected response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From the onset of the global pandemic, President Bolsonaro has repeatedly dismissed the severity of COVID-19. As early as March 2020, President Bolsonaro labelled the virus as “a little flu” and claimed that state governors trying to stop the pandemic from spreading was a crime. As a result, protesters claim President Bolsonaro is responsible for the devastation that has ravaged Brazil, leaving the country with nearly 460,000 killed since the first announced COVID-19 death on March 18, 2020.
Experts fear the worst has yet to come for Brazil. Antonio Flores, an infectious disease specialist who works as a medical coordinator for Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in Brazil, states that the country is already seeing signs of the impending third wave. Municipalities have seen waitlists for intensive-care beds as early as March 29, 2021. The slow vaccine in Brazil is raising concerns that the third wave will be devastating. According to the Globe and Mail, as of May 27, 2021, 20.6 percent of the Brazilian population has received at least one dose, and 10.1 percent are fully vaccinated. Critics point to the Swine flu pandemic of 2010, showcasing how the Brazilian national immunization program was more effective, vaccinating a little less than 90 million people in less than four months.
Anger and frustration have moved into health care facilities. CNN News reports that a nurse in Brazil named Patricia Ferreira stated that President Bolsonaro is “worse than the virus at the moment” and that health care professionals “are exhausted, with our healthcare system on the verge of collapse.”
The failure of President Bolsonaro stems from his refusal to listen to scientists and their advice on moving forward in a COVID-19 world. The International President of MSF, Dr. Christos Christou, stated that Brazil used the COVID-19 pandemic as a political battlefield. This has resulted in “science-based policies [being] associated with political opinions, rather than the need to protect individuals and their communities from COVID-19.” President Bolsonaro’s actions have directly correlated with his political persona of an ultra-conservative whose primary focus is on the economy, with little government intervention. The approach of telling Brazilians to “stop whining” and asking Brazilians concerned about their safety, “how long are you going to keep crying about it?” creates a country without leadership when the people need it the most. As Brazil’s COVID-19 cases rise, health professionals are left to fend for themselves and salvage what they can. There is no leadership from a president unwilling to accept the severity of the pandemic.
Rather than listen, he has continuously advocated against any COVID-19 measures. For example, just a week before the protests against President Bolsonaro, he exclaimed the need to overthrow the supreme court because they gave local governors and mayors the approval to prevent a further COVID-19 spread without approval from him.
To fully protect individuals, President Bolsonaro must take the advice from scientists into his decision-making process when creating policies. The range of COVID-19 data is widespread and can effectively keep a thriving economy working while also protecting individuals from COVID-19. To stay up-to-date on Brazil’s COVID-19 cases, the New York Times regularly updates cases and regions affected.
It is clear President Bolsonaro has stuck to his anti-COVID-19 restrictions, so unless the president has a change of heart, it is doubtful President Bolsonaro will take the protests seriously. Thus, impeachment may be the best way to send a message about how serious COVID-19 is to Brazilians’ health and well-being.