Brazil: a deadly virus and an even deadlier President

By BEN FIRTH

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed multiple governments around the world to be criminally incompetent. However, to describe President Bolsonaro of Brazil as incompetent would suggest that he simply lacks the skills to protect the Brazilian population from Covid-19. Instead, he has actively downplayed the danger posed by the virus, as well as undermining any attempts to mitigate the danger, such as lockdowns and vaccines. In doing so, he has revealed himself to be a truly cold and callous President. Tragically, the second highest death rate in the world is only set to rise as Brazil’s “rapid and violent” P1 variant exploits the government's reckless approach to tackling the pandemic, hitting the younger generations the hardest.


Even without this variant, which emerged in Manaus towards the end of November 2020, Brazil would have been facing one of the worst crises the world has seen during this pandemic. The government’s response has been shockingly incoherent, uncoordinated, and lacking any centralisation. The politicisation of the pandemic has seen regional leaders and Bolsonaro lock horns over lockdowns, as the President has repeatedly refused to “accept this politics of stay home and shut everything down” according to Time, instead leaving local regions to find a way to alleviate the pressure on their hospital’s intensive care units, which in most states have an occupation rate above 90%. His priorities clearly lie with protecting the economy, as he labelled regional leaders as “tyrants” for introducing local lockdowns, which he deems will only make the poor poorer.


Clearly, the President believes that there is little value in imposing an economically damaging national lockdown just to stop “a little flu”, yet a death toll of over 380,000 suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, the vacuum of compassion at the heart of the Brazilian government was revealed when the President declared that it is a fact of life that “people die everywhere” and that everyone should “stop all this fussing and whining”. His complete apathy for the Brazilian people has extended to the vaccination programme as well; despite happily endorsing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus, he stated he would not get a vaccine and that the Pfizer jab would “turn people into crocodiles”. All of these factors have contributed to the rising death rate in Brazil, and the effects of such fatal leadership could only be worsened by a new variant of Covid-19, which has pushed the country's health services even closer to their breaking point.


As if such cold-blooded leadership wasn’t enough to fear, Brazil has been overrun by its P1 variant, which has brought the fight to Brazil’s youth. The variant has reached all areas of Brazil, and much of the rest of South America, and has escalated what was already a soaring death rate. March saw double the number of deaths as June 2020, which was previously its worst month of the pandemic. 66,500 died and over 100,000 are predicted to be killed this month, but many of those won’t be the elderly, as has been seen in much of the rest of the world. For the first time, according to the Brazilian Association of Intensive Care Medicine, most Covid patients in ICU are under 40 years old.


Behavioural factors can help to explain this pattern; Bolsonaro’s reckless messaging will certainly have caused some complacency amongst some people, yet the overflowing ICU units suggests that this complacency has been misplaced. Younger people are more likely to be exposed to the virus at parties and nightclubs, whilst also being more likely to need to leave home to work in jobs such as retail and hospitality. The increased exposure of the younger demographic to the newer, highly contagious variant is what has hospitalised so many younger people. The threat also lies in the fact that not only is it more contagious, but it also causes the immune protection following infection to wane. In other words, it increases the chance of reinfection which in turn reduces the efficacy of vaccines.


Perhaps most shocking is the tragedy that so many new parents are living through. More than 1,000 Brazilian babies have died from Covid-19, with many experts attributing this to a combination of lack of testing, due to the misconception that babies aren’t in danger, and the fact that Covid is causing acute respiratory syndrome. It has been estimated that there have been 10 times more deaths by unexplained respiratory syndrome than in previous years. It is only when we hold this most sobering of thoughts next to the ‘philosophical’ approach of the nation’s President that we really see just how heartless he is. Whilst families are grieving, President Bolsonaro told the country to “not cry over spilled milk”, a phrase which is surely more suitable in any other situation than when referring to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.


For as long as the President continues to use childish idioms to defend his deadly approach to tackling the pandemic, the immediate future of Brazil is bleak. Clearly, a lot must be done to turn around its fortunes, but other nations must also learn from this. Action needs to be taken to tackle the crisis in Brazil, and if concern for the people of other nations weren’t enough motivation, Brazil Is a “brewery” for mutations which could threaten to undo much of the progress made by vaccination programmes in other countries.


Image: Unsplash (Marília Castelli)