Brazil’s Virus Hotspot Goes It Alone, Dismissing Bolsonaro
Simone Preissler Iglesias and Julia Leite
Brazil’s richest state is buying medical gear directly from foreign suppliers and stands ready to go to the top court if President Jair Bolsonaro orders looser quarantine measures.
Sao Paulo has bought over 1 million testing kits from South Korea, which should arrive over the weekend, Governor Joao Doria said in an interview. The state is also using its office in Shanghai to help conduct talks to acquire protective gear and respirators from China.
The purchases are being funded by the state’s coffers and 211 million reais ($39 million) in donations from companies, which help ensure payment and speeds up negotiations with suppliers, he said.
“We can’t rely on the health ministry for crisis equipment,” Doria said in an interview Friday. “Today we have a minister who’s responsible, someone I have great respect for. But we don’t know who could take over the post if he were to leave, and we don’t want to leave the health of the people in the hands of someone who may not have the correct, scientific view that he has.”
Bolsonaro, who just a few days ago had struck a more conciliatory tone and called for national unity during the crisis, has quickly reverted back to calling the pandemic “a flu” and questioning social distancing measures. The president has repeatedly criticized governors, blaming them for the inevitable economic downturn ahead.
Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has also been a frequent target, fueling speculation the minister will soon be replaced. In an interview with Jovem Pan radio on Thursday, Bolsonaro said no minister is safe from firing and that Mandetta has gone too far. Mandetta has denied he’ll step down.
“The president frequently chooses a more extreme tone. That’s not the way to do politics; to run things, you need dialog, not threats,” Doria said.
Sao Paulo, which is home to 46 million people, is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil, with almost half of the confirmed 9,056 cases and 219 of the 359 deaths.
Doria, one of the first to declare strict social distancing measures, says the state had lost about 10 billion reais in revenue by the end of March. The state accounts for about 30% of the Brazilian economy. The decision to extend, end or toughen the state’s quarantine orders will be announced Monday, he said, adding that states are ready to fight Bolsonaro in court if he issues an order to loosen restrictions.
“The governors are ready, we’ve taken preventive measures,” he said. “We trust the Supreme Court will have the common sense to deny a request that could put people at risk.”
A public opinion poll released Friday showed Bolsonaro’s popularity took a hit from the virus crisis. Those who consider his administration “bad” or “terrible” rose to 42% from 36% a month ago, according to a XP Ipespe survey, with roughly 80% saying stricter quarantine proposals are the best way to stop the pandemic from spreading.
Approval rates of local governments, meanwhile, improved across Brazil. In the Southeast, the most affected region which includes states like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, 19% of those polled rated the administrations poorly, from 27% a month ago.
“Social isolation is what’s needed now, exactly the opposite of what the president is preaching at a time he should be leading the country to overcome this crisis,” Doria said. “Governors will continue to, like me, protect people and save lives.”