AP Explains: Bolsonaro has downplayed virus fears for months
SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for months flirted with the new coronavirus as he flouted social distancing at lively demonstrations and encouraged crowds during outings from the presidential residence, often without a mask.
He has at times downplayed the risk posed by COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus, and at others expressed fatalism that it will inevitably claim lives. He says tough measures to cub the virus’ spread such as lockdowns are a threat to Brazil’s economic well-being
On Tuesday, he announced that he has tested positive for the virus, making him one of the more than 1.6 million Brazilians with confirmed infections. It is the world’s second highest total, though considered by experts to be an undercount due to lack of testing. Here’s a look at what Bolsonaro has said as the tally grew.
HOW HAS HE MINIMIZED THE THREAT OF THE CORONAVIRUS?
Bolsonaro has argued that alarm about the spread of the virus is overblown.
“In my understanding, the issue of the coronavirus is more of a fantasy. It is not all that that mainstream media says and advertises around the world,” he said during an event with U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida on March 10, when Brazil had confirmed only a handful of cases.
But multiple members of his delegation on the trip proved to have infections. Still, Bolsonaro insisted in a March 15 interview that worry about COVID-19 was “hysteria.”
“Other viruses that were more dangerous happened in the past and we didn’t have this crisis,” he said.
In a March 24 nationally televised address, Bolsonaro struck a defiant tone as he downplayed the virus, sometimes while smirking.
“In my particular case, because of my history as an athlete, in case I were contaminated by the virus I wouldn’t need to worry. I wouldn’t feel anything or it would be, at most, similar to a little flu, or a little cold,” he said.
Asked two days later if Brazil’s situation could become as dire as that of the U.S., Bolsonaro scoffed.
“Brazilians need to be studied. They don’t catch anything. You see the guy jumping in the sewer, diving in. And nothing happens to him,” the president said.
More than three months later, he continues to minimize the risks.
“Let’s take care, especially the elders, those who have comorbidities. The youngest, take care, too,” Bolsonaro he said Tuesday. “But if you get the virus, stay calm. For you the possibility of something more serious is nearly zero.”
WHAT HAS HE SAID ABOUT THE INEVITABILITY OF SUFFERING?
In early April, when almost 400 people had died from the disease in Brazil, Bolsonaro began to say that the coronavirus would only be vanquished once the population reached so-called herd immunity.
“The virus is the same as a rainstorm: 70% of you will get wet. No one contests that,” Bolsonaro told supporters in Brasilia. “And the whole nation will be free of the pandemic after 70% are infected and have the antibodies. Period.”
Bolsonaro’s comments began to take a darker turn. Asked on April 20 about the surging number of deaths, he responded: “I’m not a gravedigger, OK?”
Eight days later, with the tally of COVID-19 deaths surpassing 5,000, Bolsonaro feigned impotence. “So what? I am sorry. What do you want me to do?” he told reporters. “I don’t do miracles.”
“Do I lament the deaths? Yes, I lament them. But it’s the reality. Everyone here will die (someday). No one will be left. And if you die in the middle of a field, a vulture will eat you,” he said May 22, the day after Brazil’s death toll surpassed 20,000. It has since risen above 65,000, the world’s second highest total.
He added, “Face the virus like a reality: 70% of people will get infected. Why fill people with terror? Everybody is going to die.”
WHAT DOES HE SAY ABOUT THE THREAT TO THE ECONOMY?
Bolsonaro’s concern about the Brazilian economy has been a fixture of his statements since late March. He has repeatedly said strict social distancing measures that sacrifice jobs and income will ultimately be more harmful than the virus itself, and he criticized governors and mayors who imposed restrictions.
“Life is more important than the economy, but we cannot exaggerate,” he said March 22 about the imposition of social distancing by local leaders. “With unemployment there the catastrophe will be bigger. Soon people will know they have been cheated by these governors and by a big part of the media on this issue of the coronavirus.”
On May 14, he warned that “more people will die -- many, many more -- if the economy continues to be destroyed.”
Even in announcing that he had tested positive for the coronavrus, Bolsonaro defended his view that Brazil needs to return to normal activity. “You can’t just talk about the consequences of the virus that you have to worry about. Life goes on. Brazil needs to produce. You need to get the economy in gear,″ he said.