BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday that there can be no more quarantine measures imposed on the country than those already in place to combat coronavirus because jobs are being destroyed and the poor are suffering disproportionately.
Speaking to Rede TV, Bolsonaro criticized self-isolation and other measures imposed by local authorities to limit the spread of the virus, a view that again appeared to put him at odds with Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta.
Mandetta on Monday urged Brazilians to maintain maximum social distancing to ease the strain on the fragile health system and said that 200 million personal protective equipment (PPEs) items would be arriving from China next month.
“You can’t impose any more quarantine than there already is,” Bolsonaro said, adding that the question people ask him most is when can they return to work.
Brazil’s Senate passed a bill on Monday evening guaranteeing some of the country’s poorest citizens income of 600 reais ($117) a month for three months, a package that could cost almost 50 billion reais.
According to Bolsonaro, all measures to combat the crisis could cost 800 billion reais, and the economy, which is expected to contract this year, could rebound and be back on track within a year.
Earlier on Monday, Bolsonaro had stepped up his stand-off with state governments, branding governors in the hardest-hit states “job-killers” and suggesting that democracy could be at risk if the coronavirus crisis leads to social chaos.
“When the situation is heading toward chaos, with mass unemployment and hunger, it’s fertile ground for some to exploit, seeking a way to reach power and never leave it,” Bolsonaro told reporters outside the presidential palace.
Bolsonaro last week warned that Brazil could break with “democratic normalcy,” citing the risk of rioting and suggesting “the left” could capitalize on any chaos, without elaborating.
The right-wing populist, elected in 2018 on a pledge to break with a corrupt political establishment, has long defended Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship as necessary to keep communists out of power.
The coronavirus outbreak, which has now resulted in 4,579 confirmed cases and 159 deaths in Brazil, has led governments around the world to call for emergency powers, raising concerns among human rights advocates.
So far Brazil’s political leaders have been eager to negotiate emergency measures such as a “war budget” exempt from fiscal rules, but many have criticized the president, who lacks a solid alliance in Congress, for downplaying health risks.
On Sunday, Bolsonaro visited a market area outside the federal capital to stress the message that lockdown measures should be relaxed.
Facebook on Monday followed Twitter and removed a video of him speaking to street vendors, explaining that it violated their standards on misinformation.
(This story corrects name of health minister to Mandetta from Mendetta)
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu, Pedro Fonseca and Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Ana Mano; Writing by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Brad Haynes, Alexander Smith and Cynthia Osterman
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