For the last three weeks, citizens of São Paulo have coordinated a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has taken a firm stance against social distancing measures, preaching the importance of citizens going to work.
“We are seeing the danger all around the world,” said 25-year-old Camilla Vargas, a second-year medical student at the University of São Paulo who has banged on pots since the first day of protest. “I think it’s a disrespect to his people and all the doctors who are currently risking their lives to fight against this virus.”
As of this morning, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Brazil was 18,176 with a death toll of 957. The southwest has been the most affected region, with São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro leading the number of confirmed cases.
Since March 17, São Paulo’s citizens have been banging on pots from their backyards, windows and porches, as well as honking their car horns and projecting quotes criticizing the President on buildings in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasília.
The protests were ignited by Bolsonaro’s third nationally televised address on March 24, where he criticized the closing of schools and businesses, attacked governors who are against him and blamed the media for creating what he called “a state of hysteria” in the country.
Bolsonaro compared COVID-19 to a “small cold,” arguing that “life must go on” in order to avoid an unemployment crisis in the country. “Fatal cases are rare amongst healthy individuals who are less than 40 years old, so why close schools?” He added: “90% of us won’t even show symptoms if we are affected with this disease.”
The president made the speech even as state governors were promoting social distancing while restricting the movement of people in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Last week, an official campaign with the slogan “Brazil Cannot Stop,” which opposes isolation measures during the pandemic, was prohibited by the justice system. Its official publications were deleted from all social media. The video, spread by members of the parliament and other government supporters, defended a restart of all activities so that everyone could go on “living with health and dignity.”
After the publicity stunt was declared a misinformation campaign by the Supreme Court, the president announced in an interview at Palácio da Alvorada that the campaign video had leaked in its experimental stages. He said it did not represent the official stance of his government.
Instead, the federal government started a new campaign with the slogan “No One Left Behind,” inspired by honor and fidelity between members of the armed forces, which played up the role of the military in Brazil.
“I voted for [Bolsonaro] in 2018, but it’s been increasingly hard to keep up the support,” said Renan Mata, a 54-year-old mechanical engineer living in Rio de Janeiro. “It is one lie after the other. In 2019 we had the destruction of the Amazon, now his negligence towards the coronavirus. What could be next?”
After an analysis by the Health Ministry stating that the situation is serious and there is no doubt COVID-19 will take a toll on Brazil’s population, President Jair Bolsonaro shifted the tone of his message in his last official announcement, preaching for “unity.” He continued to argue for a balance between preventive measures and jobs. He put little focus on the need to quarantine to avoid the spread of the disease.
Along with the protests, a movement to impeach the president is gaining popularity. Initially scheduled as a one-time occurrence on March 17, the protest continues to happen at all hours of the day, but especially when Bolsonaro is scheduled for any sort of public appearance related to the virus.
“Since the beginning of his presidency Bolsonaro has shown no support for science and research, so his view and actions towards COVID-19 did not surprise me,” said 23-year-old Michelle Calheiros, a Brazilian studying marine biology in North Miami. “Although I don’t live in Brazil anymore, I have many friends and family members that are now being subjected to whatever policies Bolsonaro puts in place, and as we know he doesn’t operate under facts and science, but under his own opinion about the pandemic … Brazil is going to suffer a great deal if he doesn’t change the way he is managing this situation.”