He’s described the illness as a “little flu,” a trifling “cold.” He’s accused the media of manufacturing “hysteria”—even as confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, soar to well over half a million and deaths to roughly 25,000 worldwide. The coronavirus-denial movement officially has a leader, and it’s Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Nicknamed the “Trump of the Tropics,” Bolsonaro has sought to emulate the American president’s right-wing populist-nationalism since launching his bid for the presidency in 2018. But compared with Bolsonaro’s position on the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump’s approach looks sober and scientifically grounded.
If there’s one lesson from the global responses to COVID-19, it’s this: The countries that have had the most success “flattening the curve” acted quickly and aggressively to contain the virus, rather than downplaying the threat it posed. Bolsonaro has had months to absorb this lesson, yet has chosen to take the opposite tack.
Bolsonaro, who leads one of the world’s most populous and economically dynamic countries, has described COVID-19 as a symptom-free nuisance for “90 percent” of infected Brazilians. He’s argued that while he may be 65, he wouldn’t be at serious risk even if he were to become infected, because of his “history as an athlete.” (The athletes who have contracted COVID-19 might be surprised to learn that their talents grant them special powers against the virus.) He has proposed isolating only the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. As recently as yesterday, Bolsonaro asserted that Brazilians “never catch anything,” even when they dive into “sewage,” and that they may have already developed the “antibodies” to stop the virus’s spread.