Infected President

From denial to contagion: Jair Bolsonaro’s path towards the coronavirus

The head of State still maintains treating covid-19 like the common cold, even after more than 65 thousand deaths

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | Brasília (DF) |
Bolsonaro's tone is causing genocide, says former Health Minister - Evaristo Sa/AFP

It was 118 days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic, that 65 year old president Jair Bolsonaro declared he had contracted the virus he often makes little of.

The confirmation came from the man himself, in a speech to the press that health authorities cringed at, given this past Tuesday, July 7th.

While admitting he had a 38 degree fever and body aches, Bolsonaro tried to maintain the posture that covid-19, though it has killed 65 thousand Brazilians, isn’t all that bad.

“I’m fine, I’m normal. Compared to yesterday, I’m doing really well. I even feel like taking a little walk, but won’t do it following medical advice, but I am doing really well”, he declared.

This tone that minimizes the disease, is the strategy adopted by the president since the arrival of the novel coronavirus in Brazil. Denial, according to physician and former Health Minister Alexandre Padilha, is part of a political effort to ensure the economy doesn’t crash amid the tragedy.

“Bolsonaro is motivated by genocidal logic - he has made that clear – he believes this pandemic will only be over when 70 – 80 percent of the population has been infected, and that this should happen as quick as possible, so as to not get in the way of restarting the economy”, says Padilha, who is now a Federal Congressman.

For the parliamentarian, the deaths caused by the coronavirus are already the biggest human tragedy in Brazilian history, for two fundamental reasons: the negation of science by the president of the Republic and the weakening of the public healthcare system (SUS). Padilha says that the only solution is to remove Bolsonaro from power.

“I’m one of those who believe that Brazil won’t be able to stop this genocidal project and will not be able to recover economically under Bolsonaro’s leadership. The impeachment requests and the efforts to impede this government are fundamental in order for Brazil to avoid, along the years, the deepening of the human tragedy we are living due to covid-19”, suggests the former minister.

Journalist and sociologist Laurindo Leal Filho, professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), affirms that Bolsonaro’s tone is borderline fascist.

“It’s fascist discourse in the sense that he doesn’t allow for contradiction. It’s that or nothing. ‘It’s like this, we behave this or that way because we have this or that body type’. He appeals to all individuality, to individualism. It’s curious because it’s a type of individualism that at the same time, as it grows on individuals, it forms fascist conglomerates”, thinks Leal.

The posture of the former army captain isn’t new in his political career says the professor. “He says the same things he has been saying his whole life about every subject. They are simple and sneaky sentences, offering no logical support. It reproduces a type of speculation without basis or foundation”.

According to Leal, its through the simplification of thoughts that Bolsonaro finds his faithful. “This type of discourse is easily assimilated by a great parcel of the Brazilian population, that identifies with it and has difficulty understanding more complex arguments. It’s an easy discourse, which is common in large parts of Brazilian society, unfortunately, historically victims of a lack of profound debate and reasoning”.

Review the main talking points and efforts in negating the coronavirus:

Protests against Congress and the Supreme Court

On March 15th, the president egged on and took part in protests against the National Congress and the Supreme Court (STF). He ignored health guidelines and touched protesters, going as far as taking selfies with them. Up till that point, Brazil had 200 confirmed cases of the disease.


On March 17th, Bolsonaro said there was “hysteria” surrounding the pandemic and that he would celebrate his 65th birthday with a “traditional little party”. “This virus has brought forth a certain hysteria. There are some governors, who in my view, though I may be wrong, are taking measures that will greatly affect our economy”, he declared.

“Little Flu” and “athletic past”

In a pronouncement to the people on national televesion, the president said that he was not worried about a “little flu” because of his “athletic past”. He also blamed the media for the worsening of the healthcare crisis.

“In my case, due to my athletic past, in case I get contaminated with the coronavirus I don’t have to worry. I wouldn’t feel much, if anything, it would be like a little cold or flu”, he stated on the occasion.

Brazil can’t stop

Since the start of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has been against social distancing measures. He tried several times to convince mayors and governors that the national economy couldn’t stop. Nonetheless, according to experts, social distancing is the most effective way to curb the spread of the illness.

Ode to Hydroxycloroquine

The use of cloroquine and hydroxycloroquine has become a personal mission for Bolsonaro. He defended the use of the medication with no scientific backing on national television, and obligated the Health Ministry to include the drugs in the treatment of patients.

Up till today, no study has proven that either of the medications have any benefits whatsoever in the treatment of Sars-CoV-2.

The drugs are also at the center of a legal inquiry: on June 18th, Federal prosecutors and the National Accounts Tribunal (MPTCU) requested an investigation into possible over budgeting kickbacks, related to the purchase of base materials needed to produce cloroquine, by army Central Command.

Switching Ministers

The last two Health Ministers who were actually healthcare professionals, doctors Luiz Henrique Mandetta and Nelson Teich, couldn’t bare Bolsonaro’s orders.

Mandetta was fired on April 16th, after a series of confrontations with the president over social distancing. According to the commander in chief, the then minister only defended medical interests during the pandemic and ‘didn’t understand the jobs thing”. Teich was on the helm for less than a month. He disagreed with Bolsonaro about the indiscriminate use of hydroxycloroquine, and with no voice in the ministry, he quit on May 15th.

Lack of transparency

Under the command of the interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, the entity has undergone a “data wipe out”. The government has restricted access to data about the coronavirus in the country. Different than what is happening world wide, the government has began highlighting only the what is released over the last 24 hours. In this manner, the information displayed becomes “hidden”, with less impact, since it doesn’t take into account days gone by.

Vetoing Masks

On Friday June 3rd, the president vetoed making face masks mandatory in churches, stores and schools during the pandemic, as was decreed in a law approved by Congress. Three days later, Bolsonaro extended the veto to prisons.

The Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported that since the health crisis began, the president refused to wear a mask, and went as far as telling employees that that was “for faggots”.

Edited by: Rodrigo Chagas