Brazil is the world’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been averaging around 70,000 new cases a day, and it has about a quarter of all daily deaths worldwide. Patients are arriving at hospitals sicker than ever with Brazil’s variant, which has spread across South America. Meanwhile, about 2% of Brazil’s population is fully vaccinated.
The health crisis is creating a political crisis for the country’s authoritarian leader Jair Bolsonaro. Last week, he ousted six of his cabinet members, prompting others to resign. Some Brazilian lawmakers are talking impeachment now.
Michael Fox is a freelance journalist who’s been covering all this for PRI’s The World.
Joining Press Play from Florianopolis, an island in southern Brazil, he says daily COVID-19 death rates have risen to nearly 4,000 a day as of last week, Brazil’s P1 COVID variant accounts for 80-85% of all new COVID-19 cases in the region.
The Brazilian variant has been identified in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Fox says the virus is infecting younger adults, who are listening to President Bolsonaro as he advises against lockdowns and encourages residents to live life normally.
“It means that a lot of those younger people are saying, ‘It's not that big of a deal, it's not going to affect me,’” Fox says. “This mentality has really worn on a lot of people in their 20s and 30s. In fact, what we saw in Florianopolis just last Friday were people out partying, without any masks whatsoever.”
Bolsonaro now supports the distribution of vaccines in Brazil, however it is a far cry from his stance earlier in the pandemic.
“Several months ago, Bolsonaro was talking about how vaccines might turn you into a crocodile, or they might make women grow beards. He was actually trying to destroy confidence in vaccines rather than build them up.”
According to Fox, the change of heart came after a judge threw out corruption charges against former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is now free to run for president in 2022.
“You saw Bolsonaro actually wearing a mask in public and quickly signing a decree to try and expedite the buying of vaccines,” Fox says. “Polls looking ahead at next year show that [Lula da Silva] is a shoo-in, or at least [will] make it to the second round.”