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Brazil: Where Covid-19 meets the virus of poverty, social inequality and Neo-Fascism

by Luiz Franco

President Bolsonaro took selfie with supporters outside the presidential palace on Sunday despite government warnings against large gatherings. Photo: AFP

The Coronavirus arrived in Brazil at the end of February, brought by a 61-year-old businessman whocame from Lombardi, Italy. The social profile of the first infected person, however, is way different from thatof Brazil’sfirst fatal victims: a 62-year-old retired doorman and a 63-year-old maid, whose employers had just arrived from a trip to Italy - and refused to dismiss her from work, even after shetested positive for Covid-19. As we can expect from the country with the higher super-rich income concentration in the entire world (according to a 2018 research conducted by French economist Thomas Pikkety), here the Coronavirus has also become, above all, a matter of class.


Unlike the businessman who, having felt the symptoms following a trip to Italy, could takethe test and self-isolate in the comfort of his own home, the retired doorman and the maid couldn’t even get tested for Coronavirus: the Brazilian public health system (on which 75% of the population depends) makes it available for the most serious cases - even though studies indicates that a significant number of transmissions are made precisely from asymptomatic people, and though massive testing was precisely one of the main measures adopted for cities which weresuccessful incontainingthe virus, like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. Instead, they died without even knowing they had Coronavirus. Because they were poor.


The minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, openly criticized WHO’s recommendation of testing the largest number possible of people (and not only the serious cases), saying that this would be a “waste” of resources. Meanwhile, one of his first emergency measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 was to spend about U$ 140,000 in public funds to buy medical aprons from a company that was one of his biggest campaign donors in his election for Congress in 2010 and 2014.


In spite of all that, Mandetta is still considered to be one of the most “technical” and “moderate” ministers of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro himself has referred to Coronavirus as a “hysteria” and minimized the effects of the virus, comparing it to a simple flu. The president even said that all of this was a “fantasy” manufactured by the press, one day after WHO declared Coronavirus to be a pandemic.


More than this: last Sunday, Bolsonaro encouraged and took part of a protest in favor of his own government and against the Congress and the Brazilian Supreme Court. Ignoring WHO’s most basics recommendations, the president hugged and held hands with hundreds of his supporters, althoughmore than ten members of the delegation from his recent trip to the United States had tested positive for Covid-19. Needless to say, he did all of this, as a chief of State and democratically elected president, just to support an extreme anti-democratic movement in the heart of the country’s capital, Brasilia.


Bolsonaro is already facing the consequences of his acts. Since then, in just three days, three different impeachment requests were made in Congress, accusing him of several crimes: health crimes, responsibility crimes, crimes against the press and the Constitution and so on. Last Wednesday, massive protests were made from balconies and windows all over the country, demanding him to leave the presidency. Nevertheless, the Brazilian left, crushed in recent elections, doesn’t seem prepared to offer the population a convincing path out of the crisis, and working class people clearly don’t have time to wait the whole process of an impeachment while having their rights cut and suffering from poor sanitary and health conditions.


According to recent data, Brazil has more than 11 million unemployed people and over half of its population in informal work. Without fast and efficient support from the State, none of them will be able to take basic precautions against Coronavirus, like testing and being isolated. They will be busy - and vulnerable to infection - just struggling to survive.


In the meantime, the virus will escalate, especially inthe poorest regions of the country, which lack basic sanitation and enough beds in public hospitals - like regions in the northeast, favelas and neighborhoods totally dominated by paramilitary groups (which, by the way, have uncomfortably close ties to the Presidential family). Something has to be done. Right now.


If the Coronavirus is already causing unprecedented damage to small, developed European countries, just imagine what it can do to a country as big and unequal as Brazil. We are facing a global challenge with this disease outbreak and, to overcome it, we will need global solidarity from our comrades all over the world.


Luiz Franco is a Brazilian journalist

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