Could Brazil become an anti-vax holiday destination?

This week, the Brazilian government announced it would not demand foreign visitors present proof of Covid-19 vaccination to enter the country, with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga declaring they would rather die than lose their freedom.

Under mounting pressure from experts and health regulators amid the arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the new Brazilian rule states that unvaccinated tourists need only obey a five-day quarantine period before being released after a negative Covid test. Even the rules for quarantine are vague, not mentioning where travellers should isolate themselves, or whether there will be any follow-up from health authorities.

The move bucks the trend seen in countries such as Japan, Israel, and Argentina, which closed their borders or enforced tighter coronavirus restrictions, such as requiring proof of full vaccination as well as a 10-day quarantine.

Visitors who have tested negative for Covid-19 and present proof of vaccination can circulate freely around the country, without the need for isolation.

Health regulator Anvisa, the Federal Accounts Court, the Public Defender’s Office, and other health-related agencies have lobbied the government to demand immunization certificates from all visitors coming from outside Brazil.

President Bolsonaro has likened vaccine passports to dog leashes, claiming he has yet to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and maintaining his support for using ineffective drugs to fight the disease.

Oddly, the head of state has recently shown himself to be on both sides of the coronavirus safety debate, saying he is in favor of cancelling Carnival celebrations in early 2022 due to perceived Covid risks — yet remaining happy to allow unvaccinated foreigners into the country.

Half a dozen cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in Brazil so far. While it remains unclear whether the mutation will be able to circumvent vaccine protections and cause renewed health crises, experts have preached caution. Mr. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, is happy to take a gamble.