Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro declared on Thursday places of worship “essential services” that must be exempted from quarantine measures against the Chinese coronavirus.
The new presidential decree rules that “religious activities of any kind” are exempt from quarantine rules on the grounds that they are an essential service. Other exempt services include supermarkets and pharmacies. It does, however, state any religious activities must be carried out “in accordance with health ministry guidelines.”
Many places of worship have suspended services in response to the outbreak, instead choosing to broadcast them online. However, some powerful religious leaders have refused, including the influential evangelical pastor and Bolsonaro ally Silas Malafaia, who has described lockdown measures as a tactic by the devil to install fear in the population.
“My friends, do not worry about coronavirus,” he said last week. “It is just another tactic by Satan. Satan works with fear.”
Bolsonaro, who is a Christian with a devout Evangelical following, is one of the few world leaders to have pushed back against nationwide quarantine measures, denouncing them as unnecessary. On Thursday, he was asked by reporters outside the presidential palace whether he believed infection rates could reach similar levels to the United States.
“[I don’t] believe it will reach that point. Brazilians don’t catch anything. You see a guy jumping over sewer water there, he goes out, he falls in … and nothing happens to him,” he explained. “Moreover I believe that many people are already infected (with the coronavirus) in Brazil, weeks or months ago – they already have antibodies that help it to not proliferate.”
This week, the president urged Brazilians to get “back to normal” as soon as they feasibly can, while also condemning the global “hysteria” over the pandemic that has brought most developed countries to a complete standstill.
“Our lives have to go on. Jobs must be kept … we must, yes, get back to normal,” Bolsonaro said. “A small number of state and municipal authorities must abandon their scorched-earth ideas: the banning of public transport, the closing of commerce, and mass confinement.”
According to the latest figures, Brazil has now recorded over 3,000 cases of the coronavirus and 77 deaths, a relatively low fatality rate compared to other countries such as Spain and Italy.
Bolsonaro, who recently tested negative for the virus amid false reports that he had contracted it, is now proposing a “vertical” approach to quarantine, that will only require the elderly and those with prior health conditions to continue self-isolating.
“What is happening around the world has shown that the at-risk group are those aged 60 or over. So why close schools?” he said on Monday. “Ninety percent of us will show no symptoms if we are infected.”