Special Report: Bolsonaro brought in his generals to fight coronavirus. Brazil is losing the battle
In mid-March, Brazil took what seemed to be a forceful early strike against the coronavirus pandemic.
The Health Ministry mandated that cruises be canceled. It advised local authorities to scrap large-scale events. And it urged travelers arriving from abroad to go into isolation for a week. Although Brazil had yet to report a single death from COVID-19, public health officials appeared to be getting out in front of the virus. They acted on March 13, just two days after the World Health Organization called the disease a pandemic.
Less than 24 hours later, the ministry watered down its own advice, citing “criticism and suggestions” it had received from local communities.
In fact, four people familiar with the incident told Reuters, the change came after intervention from the chief of staff’s office for Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
“That correction was due to pressure,” said Julio Croda, an epidemiologist who was then the head of the Health Ministry’s department of immunization and transmissible diseases. The intervention by the chief of staff’s office has not been previously reported.
The about-face, given scant attention at the time, marked a turning point in the federal government’s handling of the crisis, according to the four people. Behind the scenes, they said, power was shifting from the Health Ministry, the traditional leader on public health matters, to the office of the president’s chief of staff, known as Casa Civil, led by Walter Souza Braga Netto, an Army general.
26 May 2020