Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro spent much of the week condemning measures such as widespread lockdowns and mandatory vaccination planned against the Chinese coronavirus. He stated Wednesday morning he did not understand why countries would return to lockdowns and repeated his vow not to import Chinese vaccines the next day.
Bolsonaro has spent much of the latter half of the week on Brazilian airwaves – first on a visit Thursday to Maranhao state and later that day on his regularly scheduled Facebook Live video.
Prior to visiting Maranhao, on Wednesday night, Bolsonaro addressed cases in Europe of a return of strict measures preventing the free movement of people in much of Europe in response to growing numbers of Chinese coronavirus cases. France and Germany imposed formal lockdown measures this week, while Spain and Italy opted for curfews and other measures that restrict trade and deprive citizens of their freedom.
“I just cannot understand measures like that because the virus is there. You’re going to have to confront it,” Bolsonaro, who was diagnosed with the coronavirus in July and has since overcome the infection, said. “You’re wearing a mask, it’s all good, but in a little bit of time none of that will free you of the virus.”
Bolsonaro added that the only service lockdowns provide, in his opinion, is to “mess up the economy.”
“The objective of social isolation – which is wrong, and I said it was wrong from [the beginning] – it only served to mess up the economy and it was supposed to be so that there wasn’t as much contagion and, at the same time, the hospitals weren’t overwhelmed,” he said.
Among the many topics Bolsonaro discussed in his Thursday night Facebook Live video, which lasted nearly an hour, was pandemic policy. He used some of his time to rekindle an ongoing dispute with the left in his country – and, in particular, Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria – over the wisdom of importing a vaccine candidate from China.
Doria had joined Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello to announce the purchase of a large shipment of Chinese vaccine candidate doses in October that Bolsonaro canceled, asserting, “The president here is me.” The governor has been at the forefront of calls from the Brazilian left to mandate that Brazilian citizens take a coronavirus vaccine. Doria also imposed strict lockdown measures in his state despite Bolsonaro’s objections; like the United States, Brazil operates as a federalist system in which governors have more power than presidents regarding local policy:
“Nobody is going to take your vaccine by force, ok? Find somebody else,” Bolsonaro said during Thursday’s broadcast, presumably addressing Doria. “And I, who am the government – the money isn’t mine, it’s the people’s – will not buy your vaccine either, no, ok? Find somebody else to pay for your vaccine.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s opposition to the Chinese-made vaccine – and opening his Thursday night broadcast with a call to eradicate communism from Brazil – Bolsonaro has proven a lucrative friend for Chinese communist dictator Xi Jinping. Bolsonaro visited Beijing last year to sign eight trade agreements between the two governments. Since then, Brazilian companies have signed major deals with Chinese counterparts in industries such as mining and agriculture. Brazil recently became the third-largest oil exporter to China in the world.
“It may sound racist to differentiate development based on culture. But after living in Brazil for a while, you will find out the answer. … Brazilians are not willing to be as diligent and hard-working as the Chinese,” the Chinese government publication Global Times declared in an article published in 2018. “Neither do they value savings for the next generation, like the Chinese do. Yet they demand the same welfare and benefits as those in developed countries.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s rejection of lockdown measures and other policies that freeze economic activity, Brazil experienced a dramatic rise in unemployment and a fall in economic activity since the coronavirus outbreak struck in March – largely because governors such as Doria have the power to impose the measures despite Bolsonaro’s opposition. Brazil’s unemployment rate from June to August rose to 14.4 percent, or 13.8 million people, the highest number since 2012. From June to August 2019, that number was 11.8 percent. Economists noted that the unemployment rate rose in part due to the fact that by the end of that period, restrictions had begun to lift, so more people began actively looking for work, rather than dropping out of the workforce entirely.
Brazil has documented about 5.5 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, as of Friday. Of these, 158,959 have died. The nation has a higher death toll, officially, than any country except the United States, and only America and India exceed its number of cases. These numbers only take into account the official tallies recorded by sovereign states, however, which includes several counts from rogue states that experts consider, at best, dubious. North Korea, for example, claims to have documented zero coronavirus cases on its soil despite bordering China, the virus’s origin country, and Russia, which has a high number of cases. China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have all stood accused of documenting fraudulent cases and death counts.