Brazil: Political crisis and Covid surge rock Bolsonaro

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is facing the biggest crisis of his presidency after the heads of the army, navy and air force all quit and the country recorded its highest daily Covid-19 death toll.

The unprecedented resignation of the defence chiefs is being seen as a protest at attempts by Mr Bolsonaro to exert undue control over the military.

Mr Bolsonaro’s popularity has plummeted over his response to Covid-19.

Nearly 314,000 people have died, with a new daily record of 3,780 on Tuesday.

What’s the situation with Covid?

As well as the nationwide high, record numbers of daily Covid deaths were also registered in three states: in São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, in the north-eastern state of Paraíba and in the capital, Brasilia.

Worldwide, Brazil has the second-highest number of total confirmed Covid cases with more than 12.6m. Only the United States has had more.

EFO'S COUTORE [0548951247]
EFO’S COUTORE [0548951247]

Fears have been voiced that the country could become a threat to global public health.

Where are the new cases coming from?

Brazil’s leading health institute, Fiocruz, said last week that there had been a steep increase in cases among young adults. It said that intensive care units had reported a rising number of admissions of younger patients with Covid and a higher number of deaths in this younger age group.

“The country is in a situation where the health services have collapsed at the same time that we’re seeing the pandemic making inroads among younger people: those aged 30 to 39, 40 to 49, and 50 to 59,” Fiocruz said in a statement.

It said that there had been a six-fold increase in cases among those aged 40 to 49 between the beginning of the year and mid-March.

How’s the government reacted?

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who came to power two years ago, has consistently opposed lockdown measures, arguing that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the coronavirus itself.

He has also told Brazilians to “stop whining” about the situation.

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But last week, Mr Bolsonaro, who has previously raised doubts about vaccines and defended unproven drugs as treatment, said that he would make 2021 the year of vaccinations. “Very soon we’ll resume our normal lives,” he said.

The president’s popularity has plummeted over his handling of the pandemic, with 43% of Brazilians saying Mr Bolsonaro is to blame for the Covid crisis, according to a Datafolha poll published in mid-March.

The poll suggests that 54% rate his performance in connection with the pandemic as bad or very bad, up from 48% in late January.

How serious is this for Bolsonaro?

The record death figures come amid a political crisis that has seen the foreign minister, the defence minister and the heads of the army, navy and air force leave the office all leave office within days of each other.

It is reportedly the first time in Brazilian history that the chiefs of the army, navy and air force have stood down together over a disagreement with the president.

The three men – Gen Edson Leal Pujol, Adm Ilques Barbosa and Lt Brig Antonio Carlos Bermudez – resigned on Tuesday, a day after the president’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo was forced to quit following heavy criticism by lawmakers.

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MAK EVENTS [0594110706]

Mr Araújo was accused of poorly handling relations with China, India and the US, which lawmakers said resulted in Brazil having insufficient quantities of Covid-19 vaccine.

Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva then quickly followed suit, prompting a cabinet reshuffle.

The defence minister clashed with Mr Bolsonaro over the issue of the armed forces’ loyalty, which he said should be directed to upholding the constitution rather than supporting the president personally.

The BBC’s Latin America correspondent, Will Grant, says Mr Bolsonaro is now facing his biggest political crisis since taking office in January 2019.

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