President Jair Bolsonaro went on national TV last week and claimed to have adopted all necessary measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. As he was speaking, thousands of Brazilians banged pots on their windows in disagreement – with good reason.
Brazil’s national health system is on the verge of collapse: Intensive care units across the country are at or near capacity: 24 states have an intensive care unit occupancy rate of over 80 percent, in 19 states it is 90 percent or more and in six states it exceeds 100 percent. News organizations report people are dying while waiting for a bed.
About a quarter of all Covid-19 deaths in the world last week were in Brazil. And the country broke another record on March 26: more than 3,600 deaths in a 24-hour period. One study estimates that the country may reach 5,000 deaths a day between April and May.
How did the country descend into this devastating chaos?
Since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, the president has downplayed the threat, joined crowded events, and vetoed a law that made it mandatory to use masks in schools, stores, and prisons. He even tried to get the Supreme Court to stop governors and mayors from imposing social distancing rules.
Instead of encouraging the use of masks and social distancing, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), Brazil’s government invested heavily in drugs that it claimed, without scientific evidence, prevented or cured Covid-19. Add to that the emergence of a new, more contagious variant of the virus, and low vaccine availability – only seven percent of Brazilians have received a first dose – and it is easy to understand why the country is in such a dire situation.
International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to ensure access to health care for those who need it.
Without meaningful collaboration among all authorities, including all governors, and without adherence to WHO recommendations, thousands more Brazilian families are likely to lose loved ones. Bolsonaro needs to start listening to science and putting the lives of Brazilians first.