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Not wearing masks a badge of honor in Bolsonaro’s government

. Jul 08, 2020
masks Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro doesn't believe in using protective masks Illustration: André Chiavassa/Shutterstock

As soon as Jair Bolsonaro was diagnosed with Covid-19, a slew of government authorities rushed to the hospital to get tested themselves. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Brazilian president has simply refused to wear a face mask, particularly when the cameras are not rolling. And he has made a question of shaking hands or hugging everyone he meets, going against the World Health Organization’s hygiene guidelines. According to Mr. Bolsonaro’s official schedule, he met with at least 57 people in the past week — 17 of them while not wearing any protective gear. Like hydroxychloroquine or social isolation measures, the president’s supporters have transformed the use of face masks into another culture war.

</p> <p>In fact, for many in the Bolsonaro administration, not wearing a mask is a badge of honor. Former Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, for instance, was fined BRL 2,000 by local authorities in Brasília for attending a demonstration without using one, a punishment to which he responded with <a href="https://www.poder360.com.br/governo/demitido-weintraub-ironiza-multa-por-nao-usar-mascara/">derision</a>. On Wednesday, President Bolsonaro himself was quoted saying that &#8220;<a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/colunas/monicabergamo/2020/07/mascara-e-coisa-de-v-dizia-bolsonaro-na-frente-de-visitas.shtml?utm_source=twitter&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=twfolha">masks are for faggots</a>.&#8221;</p> <p>But besides his homophobic jibes, the president&#8217;s demeanor is also putting the lives of public servants at peril. Multiple government workers have told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that they have been peer-pressured to <em>not wear masks</em> while in public buildings. Especially in the presidential palace.</p> <p>According to the government&#8217;s own data, at least 108 of the 3,400 people working at the president&#8217;s office have tested positive for Covid-19 —&nbsp;77 of whom were listed as &#8220;recovered.&#8221; If the government complex were its own state, it would have a rate of 3,176 infections per 100,000 people — which would be the third-highest in the country, just behind the Amazonian states of Amapá and Roraima.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-4486823"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/4486823-bolsonaro-is-one-in-a-1-6-million.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-4486823&#038;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>No masks: public servants denounce unsafe environment</h2> <p>One 51-year-old public servant who has worked for the government for 20 years told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that those wearing masks to work in Brasília are labeled as &#8220;enemies of the state.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;The mask is considered to be the ultimate symbol of the Brazilian left. And that stance led some of my colleagues, who are not ideologically aligned with the government, to wear them as a symbol of resistance,&#8221; said the civil servant.</p> <p>Earlier this week, President Jair Bolsonaro <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/07/06/brazil-bolsonaro-lifts-mandatory-use-of-masks-in-prisons/">lifted the obligation</a> for mask use within churches, stores, and <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/04/07/brazilian-prisons-breeding-ground-covid-19/">prisons</a> —&nbsp;which have become breeding grounds for the coronavirus due to poor living conditions and overcrowding. Moreover, public institutions, commercial sites, and public entities will no longer be forced to display warnings raising awareness of the use of personal protective equipment.</p> <p>This lack of regulation is likely to lower the rate of people who wear masks in a city like Brasília, which revolves around public service. A <a href="https://www.correiobraziliense.com.br/app/noticia/cidades/2020/07/08/interna_cidadesdf,870465/segundo-pesquisa-30-das-pessoas-em-brasilia-nao-usam-mascara.shtml">survey</a> by the office of the president&#8217;s Chief of Staff found that 30 percent of people in the federal capital do not wear masks — despite <a href="https://www.uol.com.br/vivabem/noticias/redacao/2020/07/07/uso-de-mascara-estudo.htm">research</a> suggesting its use reduces risk of contamination by 40 percent.</p> <p>The problem, however, is not restricted to the use of facial protection. Servants complain about a lack of other protection items such as hand sanitizer — which in Brasília are even available in some bus terminals.</p> <p>Servants within the presidential palace, the Tourism Ministry —&nbsp;where one 62-year-old worker died of Covid-19 — tourism board Embratur, and two public hospitals in Brasília have filed complaints with trade unions. &#8220;We have asked for action and we got silence in return. We must fulfill our duty, but the government must give us minimum conditions to preserve our lives and those of our family members,&#8221; said union leader Sérgio Ronaldo da Silva.</p> <h2>The press v. Jair Bolsonaro</h2> <p>On Tuesday, President Bolsonaro pulled a reality TV-like stunt to reveal he had contracted the coronavirus —&nbsp;inviting three reporting crews to his residence. He stood centimeters away from the journalists, even removing his face mask at one point, despite knowing he could contaminate them.&nbsp;</p> <p>In reaction, the journalists&#8217; union in Brasília has requested newsrooms to stop sending reporters to cover the presidential palace. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Press Association informed it will file a <a href="https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/governo/abi-entrara-com-com-noticia-crime-contra-bolsonaro/">criminal lawsuit</a> against the president.

 
Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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