Virus has Brazil's Bolsonaro facing governor ‘insurrection’

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A local volunteer carries a package with soap and detergent to be distributed in an effort to stop the spread of the new coronavirus in the Rocinha slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

SAO PAULO – Brazil's governors on Wednesday rebelled against President Jair Bolsonaro’s call for life to return to pre-coronavirus normalcy, saying his proposal to reopen schools and businesses runs counter to recommendations from health experts and endangers Latin America’s largest population.

State governors, many of whom have adopted strict measures to limit gatherings in their regions, defied the president's instructions in a nationwide address Tuesday evening that they lift the restrictions and limit isolation only to the elderly and those with longstanding health problems.

The governors weren't the only defiant ones. Virus plans challenged by Bolsonaro were upheld by the Supreme Court. The heads of both congressional houses criticized his televised speech. Companies donated supplies to state anti-virus efforts. And even some of his staunch supporters joined his detractors.

In a videoconference Wednesday between Bolsonaro and governors from Brazil's southeast region, Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria threatened to sue the federal government if it attempted to interfere with his efforts to combat the virus, according to video of their private meeting reviewed by The Associated Press.

“We are here, the four governors of the southeast region, in respect for Brazil and Brazilians and in respect for dialogue and understanding,” said Doria, who supported Bolsonaro's 2018 presidential bid. “But you are the president and you have to set the example. You have to be the representative to command, guide and lead this country, not divide it."

Bolsonaro responded by accusing Doria of riding his coattails to the governorship, then turning his back.

“If you don't get in the way, Brazil will take off and emerge from the crisis. Stop campaigning,” the far-right president said.

Bolsonaro argues that a shutdown of activity would deeply wound the country's already beleaguered economy and spark social unrest worse than the impact of addressing the virus with only limited isolation measures. He told reporters in the capital, Brasilia, that he has listened to his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, and found their perspectives to be rather similar.