Bolsonaro encourages supporters to storm hospitals

. Jun 12, 2020
Bolsonaro encourages supporters to storm hospitals President Jair Bolsonaro during a Facebook live broadcast. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

Since the beginning of Brazil’s Covid-19 epidemic, President Jair Bolsonaro has been dismissive of the virus in a way that is unrivaled among global leaders. Calling the disease a “little flu” and “the sniffles,” he has influenced many of his supporters to take an equally skeptical stance towards the virus that has so far claimed over 40,000 lives. Mr. Bolsonaro has openly encouraged his followers to break with social isolation rules on a number of occasions, be it to go back to work, join anti-democratic street protests, or — in his latest call for social disobedience — break into Covid-19 field hospitals and “film empty beds.” Beyond a lack of respect for the tens of thousands of people who have died from the disease, his encouragement has actively pushed his supporters to expose themselves to contamination.

In one of his weekly live broadcasts on Facebook, President Bolsonaro told his audience: “if there is a field hospital or public hospital near you, find a way to get in there and film it. Lots of people are doing this and more need to do it to show whether the beds are in use or not.”

</p> <p>The president&#8217;s motivation for doing this, he says, is that he has information that the current Covid-19 death tally has been inflated — without providing any proof of his claims. The blame, he stresses, must be placed on the state governors.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;[Governors] get political gain from this. That&#8217;s the only thing it could be. They take advantage of people who die for political gain, and to blame the federal government.&#8221;</p> <p>This is part of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s wider strategy to transfer all of the responsibility for Brazil&#8217;s Covid-19 crisis to state governments, who have the jurisdiction to employ social distancing measures within their own boundaries. This would free the federal government from any responsibility in the eyes of his loyal supporters.</p> <h2>Breaking into hospitals</h2> <p>As the president said, these hospital invasions have already been taking place. On the afternoon of June 4, a group of five state lawmakers forced their way into a Covid-19 field hospital in the north of São Paulo, as an attempt to &#8220;prove&#8221; the state government has been inflating coronavirus death tallies.</p> <p>Breaking into areas of high contamination risk, without using <a href="">personal protective equipment</a> (PPE), the politicians filmed scenes from a wing of the hospital that has not yet been activated for use. As of last week, the hospital was treating around 400 patients, with the municipal government saying that 3,700 cases had been seen in the facility. Nevertheless, state lawmaker Adriana Borgo claimed that there were &#8220;no patients at all&#8221; in the hospital.</p> <p>One week before, a similar case occurred in Rio de Janeiro. On May 27, state lawmaker Filippe Poubel — a supporter of the president — stormed a field hospital in São Gonçalo, a low-income city in Greater Rio de Janeiro. &#8220;I was going to be calm and mild in this inspection. Now, I&#8217;m going to raise hell,&#8221; he said, upon entering an emergency unit that was to be inaugurated hours later.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="970" height="587" src="" alt="Filippe Poubel hospitals" class="wp-image-42332" srcset=" 970w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 970px) 100vw, 970px" /><figcaption>State lawmaker Filippe Poubel was one who broke into field hospitals. Photo: Facebook</figcaption></figure> <p>Mr. Poubel planned to &#8220;reveal&#8221; that the place was unfit to treat any patients&nbsp;— and that many irregularities had been committed. The unit in question is under scrutiny by the Federal Police, having been built by an institution accused of overpricing contracts and paying kickbacks to <a href="">Rio Governor Wilson Witzel</a>.</p> <p>In fairness, the tactic of breaking into public venues with cellphone cameras turned on in order to denounce wrongdoing precedes Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s arrival to power. It gained steam in Brazil after the 2013 protests, when far-right movements started to gain notoriety.</p> <p>The Free Brazil Movement (MBL), an ultra-libertarian organization that emerged during the crisis that led to former President Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s impeachment in 2016, preached that school children should secretly film their teachers whenever &#8220;political indoctrination&#8221; took place in the classroom. In 2017, one of its main leaders, São Paulo City Councilor Fernando Holiday, started to <a href=",vereador-fernando-holiday-faz-blitz-em-escolas-para-verificar-doutrinacao,70001726796">make &#8220;surprise visits&#8221; to schools</a> in order to catch left-leaning teachers &#8220;red-handed.&#8221;</p> <h2>Meddling with the data</h2> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro has begun to incite hospital invasions while his administration <a href="">battles to hide the actual number</a> of coronavirus infections and deaths in the country. One week ago, the Health Ministry pulled its online Covid-19 dashboard off air for hours. When the platform was back up, it no longer included total case or death tallies — only after the Supreme Court intervened did the government start showing total numbers again.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello wants to change how cases and deaths are logged —&nbsp;a way to report the official figures while also giving an appearance that things are less severe than they actually are. As things stand, new death counts encompass the casualties that occurred that very day, as well as previous deaths that were only diagnosed as Covid-19-related on the day in question. Mr. Pazuello wants the latter to be removed from daily tolls, instead being added on to the counts from previous days.</p> <p>This is a clearly deceptive tactic to suggest that the death toll is not increasing, as few people would take the trouble to look back and inspect updated death counts from previous days.</p> <p>Moreover, the president knows for a fact that at least nine states have occupancy rates in intensive care units north of 80 percent. And an <a href=",informes-da-abin-destacam-beneficio-da-quarentena-e-citam-subnotificacao,70003319995">intelligence brief</a> warned Mr. Bolsonaro that the real number of cases might be eight to ten times higher than official figures suggest.&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> revealed on June 6 that several urban centers are actually experiencing a <a href="">surge in deaths caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome</a> (ARDS) — which can be caused by Covid-19, but are not added to the total count.

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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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