BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilians increasingly disapprove of President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and overwhelmingly support governors and health officials he has attacked for advocating social-distancing measures, two polls showed on Friday.
The surveys suggest Bolsonaro’s attacks on governors and even his own health minister may have backfired. Bolsonaro continues to rail against state and municipal shutdowns, calling them economically disastrous responses to an overhyped risk.
Bolsonaro’s coronavirus performance has been “bad” or “awful” according to 39% of respondents surveyed this week, up from 33% last month, according to pollster Datafolha. Those who consider his response to the health crisis “good” or “great” slipped to 33% from 35% previously.
By contrast, the survey showed approval of governors rising to 58% from 54%, while support for the crisis response by the Health Ministry soared to 76% from 55% in the last survey.
On Friday, the country’s coronavirus deaths jumped to 359 from 299, while confirmed cases jumped to 9,056.
The number of cases in Brazil could soon explode, according to a Friday report by the Center for Health Operations and Intelligence, a consortium of Brazilian research institutions. The center predicts between 35,298 and 60,413 cases by April 20.
Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has insisted on the importance of social distancing to slow the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease. His position contradicting the president has raised speculation that he could be fired.
In a Thursday evening radio interview, Bolsonaro said that Mandetta has at times “gone overboard” and lacked “humility.”
“I don’t plan on firing him during the war,” Bolsonaro said, referring to the current crisis.
Bolsonaro has shocked many around the world by persistently playing down the gravity of the pandemic, calling COVID-19 “a little cold” exaggerated by the media and his opponents - even after his political role model U.S. President Donald Trump walked back his own skepticism about the outbreak. Bolsonaro’s stance has isolated him politically in Brazil.
Brazil is among a number of countries trying unsuccessfully to buy medical supplies from China, which has created a bidding war that some have described as the “wild west.”
Mandetta said on Friday he was talking with other countries to find reasonable solutions and had enlisted the help of Brazilian iron ore miner Vale SA due to its experience doing business in China.
Another poll released on Friday, by XP Investimentos, showed that Brazilians overwhelmingly favor social-distancing measures, with 80% of respondents supporting them and just 12% calling the policy exaggerated.
The XP/Ipespe poll showed a jump of 6 percentage points in less than a month among those rating Bolsonaro’s government “bad” or “awful,” to 42% – a record for the survey.
Approval of governors who took steps to shut down schools, businesses and public events to keep people at home jumped to 44% from 26% last month. Even Congress saw its approval rise to 18% from 13%, as disapproval dropped to 32% from 44%.
Bolsonaro said on Friday that Brazilian society will not be able to stand two or three months of economic shutdowns to fight the coronavirus, denouncing social-distancing measures enforced by states and municipalities across the country.
“You know my stance. It will bring massive unemployment,” he told supporters outside the presidential residence in Brasilia.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Eduardo Simoes; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes, Bill Berkrot and Leslie Adler