Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has emerged as a conspicuous figure during the COVID-19 pandemic, though unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Unlike President Trump, Bolsonaro’s early skepticism regarding the threat posed by the virus has remained a constant. The president still refers to COVID-19 as a “little flu” and famously remarked that Brazilians “never catch anything.”
To be fair, Bolsonaro’s skepticism is based on the very real observation that the hunger and deprivation caused by economic shutdowns are also killers. Yet this ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario is similarly faced by governments the world over, and so far the overwhelming majority have opted to lock down in an effort to contain COVID-19, even at great economic cost.
It remains to be seen how long this intransigence can hold up at the highest levels of Brazilian governance (Bolsonaro’s laissez-faire approach is being roundly ignored by state and municipal authorities). Whatever the case, Brazil is not sufficiently prepared to weather the storm that’s gathering over its vulnerable economy.