Brazil’s provocateur president has continued to brush off the coronavirus, taking a spin on a jet-ski to a floating barbecue and attacking Covid-19 “neurosis” as his country’s death toll rose to more than 10,000.
Jair Bolsonaro has faced domestic and international condemnation for his dismissive attitude toward the pandemic. The rightwing populist continues to play down the disease despite the growing evidence of its deadly impact on Brazil.
On Saturday morning, the public outcry appeared, finally, to be having an effect, after Bolsonaro scrapped a barbecue and kick-about he had intended to hold at his presidential palace, in violation of his own health ministry’s recommendations.
Critics called it his “barbecue of death”, and one broadsheet used its front page to note that while Bolsonaro had bragged he would invite 1,300 people, he had visited no hospitals, met no frontline medical workers and held no meetings with the families of the thousands of Brazilians who have died.
Within hours of the cancellation, however, Bolsonaro had reverted to his typically inflammatory form, taking a jet-ski ride on Brasília’s Paranoá lake.
The excursion – which came as Brazil’s official Covid-19 death toll rose to 10,627, with nearly 156,000 confirmed cases and thousands of families mourning lost loved ones – sparked anger and revulsion.
“10,627 deaths. 10,627 deaths. 10,627 deaths. 10,627 deaths. 10,627 deaths,” tweeted the leftwing politician Marcelo Freixo alongside a video of Bolsonaro’s jaunt.
“Bolsonaro is a vile specimen. Brazil doesn’t deserve this,” tweeted Humberto Costa, a leftwing senator.
Fabio Victor, a journalist from the magazine Piauí, wrote: “Death ski”.
Footage of the jet-ski outing emerged showing Bolsonaro making a pit-stop at a boat where a barbecue was being held, and dismissing fears over the coronavirus as neurosis.
“Seventy per cent are going to catch the virus,” he told the vessel’s occupants. “There’s nothing to be done. It’s madness.”
Those remarks came as the medical journal the Lancet published a withering appraisal of Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis.
“He not only continues to sow confusion by openly flouting and discouraging the sensible measures of physical distancing and lockdown brought in by state governors and city mayors,” but had also lost two key ministers in recent weeks, it said.
“Such disarray at the heart of the administration is a deadly distraction in the middle of a public health emergency and is also a stark sign that Brazil’s leadership has lost its moral compass, if it ever had one.”
Another prominent voice, the Brazilian Youtuber and actor Felipe Neto, also turned his ire on Bolsonaro. “Influencers who do not speak out now are accomplices,” Neto said on Saturday in a viral video manifesto to his 11.4 million Twitter followers.
Bolsonaro, who has 5 million fewer Twitter devotees, used his account to harangue “idiot journalists” whom he falsely accused of fabricating reports about his planned weekend cookout.
“Fake barbecue,” tweeted the Brazilian populist, who models himself on the US president, Donald Trump.
Critics in Brazil have also compared Bolsonaro to other leaders: the authoritarian Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan.
Which of those four men was cracking jokes and organising barbecues as thousands of their citizens perished“, one Rio de Janeiro newspaper asked on its front page before answering its own question: “Bolsonaro”.