More than 5,000 Brazilians have lost their lives to the coronavirus – even more people than in China, if its official statistics are to be believed.
But on Tuesday night Brazil’s president shrugged off the news. “So what?” Jair Bolsonaro told reporters when asked about the record 474 deaths that day. “I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”
Bolsonaro’s 11-word response – the latest in a series of remarks belittling the pandemic – sparked immediate fury. One newspaper, the Estado de Minas, stamped the president’s words on to a black front page beside Brazil’s death toll: 5,017.
“Bolsonaro isn’t just an awful politician and a bad president, he’s a despicable human being,” tweeted Marcelo Freixo, a leftwing opponent.
“It’s a mockery. An insult. It is intolerable,” tweeted Mariliz Pereira Jorge, a scriptwriter and commentator.
Another critic super-imposed Bolsonaro’s words on to a photograph of the muddy graves into which scores of Brazilian bodies are being deposited each day.
“Bolsonaro wants to turn Brazil into the Republic of ‘So What?’,” the political commentator Bernardo Mello Franco wrote in his column on Wednesday.
Since Brazil confirmed its first coronavirus case on 26 February, Bolsonaro has continually minimied the pandemic, rejecting media “hysteria” over its dangers and suggesting Brazilians could swim in excrement and emerge unscathed.
The Trump-admiring populist has also purposefully undermined social distancing guidelines, mingling with supporters and sacking his health minister on 16 April after he publicly challenged the president’s behaviour.
Last week, Bolsonaro’s popular justice minister, Sergio Moro, resigned from government, partly as a result of the president’s anti-scientific stance on Covid-19, according to one person who knows him.
There is little escaping the scale of the tragedy unfolding in Brazil, with daily images of gravediggers in protective suits emerging from some of the worst-hit cities, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife and Manaus.
As Bolsonaro made his remarks, newspapers and television programmes filled with stories about the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters losing their lives to the pandemic.
In Rio, the victims included Ana Maria, a 56-year-old nursing assistant who had worked in one of the city’s biggest public hospitals and was laid to rest on Tuesday by men in white suits.
“She gave everything to her job until the very end,” her daughter, Taina, told the Associated Press.
In Vila Operária, a redbrick favela to the north of Rio, at least 10 residents were reported to have died, including four members of the same family.
Health specialists fear Covid-19 – which is moving into poor regions having initially affected middle and upper-class areas – could wreak havoc on Brazil’s most deprived and vulnerable communities.
“I’m scared,” Josiete Pereira do Carmo, who lost her mother and three uncles, told one local TV network. “We can’t lose anyone else.”
This content was originally published here.