Brazil’s coronavirus deniers in positions of power

. Mar 17, 2020
bolsonaro coronavirus edir macedo Evangelical bishop Edir Macedo (left) called Covid-19 "a tactic of Satan." President Bolsonaro (center) dubbed it a "fantasy." Photo: Alan Santos/PR

“All of this is a lie. Flu, everybody gets. But coronavirus has never killed a single person on the face of the Earth. It never has, and it never will. Don’t be afraid of the caronavirus (sic).”

Despite hundreds of cases in Brazil and thousands of deaths around the world, the denial of Covid-19—using arguments such as the above, boomed from a megaphone on top of a sound truck in the city of São Luís on Sunday—continues to find purchase in the country.


is on the verge of a considerable spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths, with the Health Ministry and <a href="">state governments</a> urging the practice of social distancing to help contain the spread as much as possible.</p> <p>This &#8220;covid-skepticism&#8221; can be traced back to President Jair Bolsonaro and his legions of supporters. On March 10, in one of his first public acknowledgments of the novel coronavirus, Mr. Bolsonaro said during an event in Miami that there was no public health crisis, and Covid-19 was a &#8220;fantasy&#8221; being exaggerated by the press.</p> <p>&#8220;The coronavirus, it&#8217;s not all that the media makes it out to be,&#8221; he shrugged.</p> <p>The president then appeared to wake up to reality upon returning to Brazil, with the news that his Press Secretary Fábio Wajngarten had tested positive for the virus. Thirteen other members of the delegation that joined him in the U.S. later turned out to be infected, with the passengers of the flight back to Brazil at one point making up 6 percent of the total coronavirus cases in the country.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro addressed his supporters in a <a href="">Facebook live broadcast</a> that evening, in which he and Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta appeared wearing protective masks and warning about the spread of the virus.</p> <p>&#8220;What we have to do is avoid an explosion of infected people, because the <a href="">hospitals won&#8217;t be able to handle</a> that many people,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>On Sunday, however, Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s disregard for the Covid-19 pandemic came back in force. Despite being in self-isolation due to his age and proximity with over a dozen confirmed coronavirus cases, the president met with his supporters in Brasilia, shaking hands with over 200 people. Later on, he <a href="">spoke to <em>CNN Brasil</em></a>, complaining of the &#8220;hysteria&#8221; of canceling public gatherings, particularly<a href=""> football matches</a>.</p> <p>In a radio interview on Tuesday, he promised to throw a birthday party for himself on Saturday, when he turns 65 years old.</p> <p>This nonchalance toward a deadly pandemic could be seen on the streets this weekend, during pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations that demanded &#8220;respect for the president&#8221; and the closure of Congress and the Supreme Court. Beyond the disobedience to public health guidelines to avoid public gatherings, protesters were also seen and heard repeating conspiracy theories regarding the virus.</p> <h2>Pastors misinforming their flock</h2> <p>Another worrying trend in Brazil is the instances of <a href="">right-wing Evangelical pastors</a> agreeing with Jair Bolsonaro and playing down the risk of the coronavirus pandemic.</p> <p>In a video <a href="">shared on WhatsApp Messenger</a> at the weekend, billionaire Evangelical bishop Edir Macedo is seen telling his followers that the coronavirus is &#8220;harmless,&#8221; and that the fear surrounding the pandemic is nothing more than &#8220;a tactic of Satan.&#8221;</p> <p>Mr. Macedo is the founder and leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which has over 7,000 churches around Brazil and membership in the millions.</p> <p>Another controversial Evangelical pastor, Silas Malafaia of the Assembly of God network of churches declared on Monday that he intends to continue giving mass during the pandemic, even under a potential lockdown situation.</p> <p>&#8220;No state government has the power to suspend my mass,&#8221; he declared.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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