When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, every country has its outlier. For South America, the outlier is Brazil. Currently, Brazil has more than 115,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 8,000 deaths by the virus. For comparison, Peru is second on the list of coronavirus impact in South America with less than 55,000 confirmed cases and less than 1,500 deaths. Only the United States has more confirmed cases and deaths in the western hemisphere. During the first week of May, Brazil’s transmission rate of the disease was among the highest in the world.

pandemic in brazil
Brazil towers over South America with the most confirmed cases.

The Response of President Bolsonaro to the Pandemic in Brazil

pandemic in Brazil
Some experts believe Bolsonaro himself has the coronavirus and is actually infecting other people as he maintains his public profile.

In the face of these booming numbers, Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, has taken a markedly different approach to the crisis compared to other world leaders. Bolsonaro refused to take the coronavirus threat seriously. Even while his governors and health experts pushed for a national lockdown, like much of the world was doing over the last month, Bolsonaro referred to the virus as “the little flu.” As the confirmed case and death count by coronavirus grew in Brazil, Bolsonaro replied to a reporter, “So what? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”

pandemic in brazil
During the first week of May, Brazil had one of the largest coronavirus transmission rates in the world.

In mid-April, Bolsonaro fired his health minister. Luiz Henrique Mendetta, Brazil’s former health minister, openly clashed with Bolsonaro and warned the nation’s hospitals were being overwhelmed. Soccer stadiums were being converted to hospitals to treat the infected. Bolsonaro insisted the economy had to keep growing, and the people had to keep working. After Mendetta was ousted, other ministers and government leaders resigned in protest. Still, others openly called for the public to disregard their president and pay attention to health experts.

Where the Coronavirus is Spreading in Brazil

pandemic in brazil

Brazil is the largest country in South America, with a population of more than 200 million. It holds wide disparities between rich and poor. Bolsonaro explained that an economic lockdown would kill more Brazilians by way of unemployment and hunger than the coronavirus. That belief was not entirely misplaced in the beginning, but as Brazil becomes a global hot spot for the virus, it is likely too late to turn back now.

Brazil’s famous favelas are low-income slums packed with residents on the outskirts of Brazil’s large cities. These are the perfect contamination ground for the spread of the coronavirus combining elements of poor healthcare, limited social distancing possibilities, and government neglect. The more impoverished populations of the country represent where the virus is currently spreading.

Official numbers cannot keep up with the current death rates in Brazil. Cemetery administrators cannot keep pace with the number of dead bodies in need of burial. In some locations, burials are occurring three times the average rate in the pre-pandemic era. Experts believe Brazil already has more than 1 million cases but lacks the testing to confirm these cases. That means many more will die.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at www.theendofhistory.net