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Brazil's Health System Isn't Ready for the Coronavirus

April 20, 2020

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made the move to fire his health minister just as cities and states in the country’s poorer northern regions began to run out of critical care beds, their public health care systems crumbling under the weight of the novel coronavirus.

While other world leaders have called for urgent action, Brazil’s far-right populist leader has dismissed the deadly virus as a “little flu.” He has railed against lockdowns, shaken hands at rallies, and encouraged people to return to normal life. In recent weeks, he repeatedly clashed with ousted Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who defied Bolsonaro and urged Brazilians to self-isolate...

For the millions of Brazilians working in the informal sector the lockdowns have been painful. Suddenly unable to earn a living as street vendors or domestic workers, many poorer Brazilians have seen their economic frustrations echoed in Bolsonaro’s lambasting of social distancing measures.

“The tone at the top matters,” said Brian Winter, the vice president for policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas. “Bolsonaro, through his own rhetoric, has greatly wounded the efforts of governors and mayors to buy Brazil some time.”...

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