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How Does Bolsonaro’s Denial Contribute To Brazil Becoming The Epicenter Of The Pandemic?

The first diagnosed case of infection by the Covid-19 virus in Brazil was confirmed on February 26 of last year. The patient was a 61-year-old man who had recently traveled to Italy, beginning the official arrival of the disease in the territory. Just over a year later of the first infection, one-third of the daily deaths from Covid-19 were concentrated in the country, in March 2021.

According to the epidemiologist Jesem Orellana, from Fiocruz Amazônia, during an interview for AFP news agency, the virus should be controlled since last year. “The war against Covid-19 was lost in 2020 in Brazil, and the country, where the virus spreads in an uncontrolled way, has become a threat to humanity". 

Firstly, it took a long time to establish a federative pact to define restrictive measures for the states, so that they could act together and on a large scale against the spread of the virus. This plan was only established at the end of last year, with the approval of vaccines around the world, so that the country would be able to import them into different regions.

All this delay, in the face of an emergency, was supported by the denialism of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Since the beginning of the crisis, he has insisted on reducing the lethality of the disease, publicizing the use of drugs that have not been proven to be effective, and resisted buying vaccines from China for political reasons. Therefore, listed below are some moments when he was guided against scientific evidence.

“Little cold”

Bolsonaro's first speech when it comes to the pandemic, via an open television network and radio, took place on March 24, 2020. In it, he minimizes the potential for the lethality of Covid-19, which in addition to causing breathing difficulties and heart problems, also causes long-term sequelae.

In an excerpt, he says: "in my particular case, because of my athlete's history, if I was infected with the virus, I wouldn't have to worry. I would feel nothing or be, at most, affected by a little cold or be under the weather, as said by that famous doctor from that famous television. While I'm talking, the world is looking for a treatment for the disease".

Chloroquine

Chloroquine, a drug used to fight malaria, got prominence initially after the then President of the United States, Donald Trump, appeared publicly defending it as preventive medicine against Covid-19. Since then, other right-wing leaders have followed the same stance, including Bolsonaro.

Gazeta spoke with Rômulo de Paula Andrade, researcher and professor of History of Science and Health at Casa de Oswaldo Cruz. According to him, the medicine has been used since 1944 against, besides Malaria, Chikungunya, Ebola, and other flu. However, it has never received definitive studies, because the contraindications and side effects are quite serious.

In July 2020, a photo of Bolsonaro went viral in which he displayed a box of Chloroquine for an emu, an animal that is loosened in the garden of the Palácio da Alvorada, the president's home. Although he advocates preventive treatment, in other words, the consumption of medications like Chloroquine, Ivermectin, and Azithromycin even before contamination, could bring risks for health. The day before the famous photograph was taken, there was detected the presence of Coronavirus in his body.

Vetoing pandemic management measures

On the first day of this year, the Brazilian National Congress approved the Budget Guidelines Law, which stipulated 58 contingency-free actions. Parliamentarians decided to protect some areas of cuts, such as "expenses related to combating the Covid-19 pandemic and fighting poverty" and "expenses with actions linked to the production and availability of vaccines against the new Coronavirus and the immunization of the population”. 

These passages, however, were vetoed by the president despite the crisis scenario, with justification made by the Ministry of Economy. Without a national vaccination plan and with a lot of immunizers still in the testing phase, the governor of São Paulo, João Dória, encouraged the production of the CoronaVac vaccine that was developed by the Chinese pharmaceuticals company Sinovac in partnership with the Butantan Institute.

In October 2020, while the vaccine was being developed, Jair Bolsonaro informed the press, through Twitter, that “nothing will be spent now to buy a Chinese vaccine, which I am unaware of and it seems that no country in the world is interested in it. The vaccine will have scientific proof, different from hydroxychloroquine. It has to be effective. You cannot inhale something in a person and the harm is greater than the possible benefit”. After being asked about his position, he also stated that “I don't know if what is involved in all this is the hefty price that will be paid for this "vachina’”.

After being duly tested and then approved by Anvisa, CoronaVac is proven to be effective up to 83% in moderate cases of infected people. Since January 19, it has been delivered by the Ministry of Health to all states and the Federal District. Despite this, vaccination in the country is still considered slow by the Brazilian government itself.

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The article above was edited by Camila Nascimento.

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Beatriz Foiadelli

Casper Libero '23

A Journalism student in Brazil, 20 years old.
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