Why Bolsonaro and Brazil are losing the battle against COVID-19

Brazil’s vast size, underfunded public hospitals and widespread poverty were vulnerabilities. But the country boasts top medical scientists and a competent private healthcare sector. It had weeks of advance warning, as the virus hit countries like China and Italy first. Those on the frontline thought Brazil was in good shape to respond.

But the people who spoke with Reuters said things began to unravel along two main fronts: Bolsonaro’s opposition to shutdown measures favored by the Health Ministry and the government’s inability to scale up testing quickly.

Cabinet members tried numerous times to persuade Bolsonaro to endorse a nationwide lockdown, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions. Bolsonaro refused, the person said, believing the virus would soon pass and that health officials were exaggerating the need for physical distancing that had proved effective in other parts of the world…

A Guedes ally, Solange Vieira, who was involved in the government’s landmark pension reform last year, likewise showed little urgency when presented with forecasts in mid-March from the Health Ministry, according to epidemiologist Croda. The ministry predicted widespread fatalities among Brazil’s elderly if the virus wasn’t contained.

“‘It’s good that deaths are concentrated among the old,” Croda recalled Vieira saying. “‘That will improve our economic performance as it will reduce our pension deficit.’”