SAO PAULO – After a heated confrontation with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro last month over his lackadaisical approach to the coronavirus, governors in the South American country have since pulled back, wary of losing vital federal aid in the efforts to control COVID-19.
That strategy is no longer working for the leader of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, the country's economic engine and the epicenter of the nation’s virus outbreak. Gov. João Doria has made it clear he's done biting his tongue.
“We’re fighting against the coronavirus and against the ‘Bolsonaro-virus,’” Doria said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, adding that he believes the president has adopted “incorrect, irresponsible positions.”
Sao Paulo has reported 11,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and almost 800 deaths, the highest in the country. As governor, Doria has become one of the nation’s foremost advocates of strong restrictions on daily life to contain the virus.
That has put him squarely in Bolsonaro’s line of fire. The president has argued that broad shutdown measures would wreck the economy. He is one of very few heads of state still scoffing at the virus, which he has repeatedly called “a little flu,” and he touts the yet-unproven benefits of an anti-malarial drug for treatment — echoes of his ally U.S. President Donald Trump.
While Trump’s skepticism has softened in recent weeks, even as he continues to clash with U.S. governors, Bolsonaro has doubled down.
The president has suggested a minimalist strategy of asking only those individuals who are most at risk for contracting the virus to be quarantined, not easily done in a country of extended families.
Nearly all of Brazil’s 27 governors have urged the public to self-quarantine while shutting down schools and businesses and suspending all but the most essential activities — more drastic measures in line with those taken by governments around the globe.