Tuesday, July 7, 2020
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LATIN AMERICA | 17-03-2020 15:40

Brazil confirms first Covid-19 death, Bolsonaro mocks 'hysteria'

Brazil confirmed its first death from the coronavirus on Tuesday, as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro declared a state of emergency over the virus outbreak.

Brazil confirmed its first Covid-19 death Tuesday, as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro declared a state of emergency over the virus outbreak.

President Jair Bolsonaro, however, condemned what he called "hysteria" over the escalating crisis.

The South American country's first victim was a 62-year-old man with underlying health conditions who died Monday in São Paulo, authorities said.

He was diabetic and had high blood pressure, TV network Globo News reported.

"Unfortunately, this shows how severe this pandemic is, despite what some would like to believe," São Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas told CBN radio pointedly.

That will likely be taken as a jab at Bolsonaro, who criticised how local governments are reacting to the pandemic, after the city of São Paulo and state of Río de Janeiro declared states of emergency over the virus.

"People are acting like it's the end of the world," the far-right president said in an interview with Radio Tupi.

"Some governors are taking measures that are really going to hurt our economy.... It's not like having groups of people here and there is the problem. What we need to do is reduce the hysteria."

State of emergency

The state of Rio de Janeiro and the city of São Paulo, where the first coronavirus death in Brazil was recorded, declared a "state of emergency" on Tuesday in wake of the pandemic, restricting commercial services and the use of public transportation.

Among the measures are 15-day closures for Rio's iconic tourist sites, like Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer.

In São Paulo, the largest city in Latin America – which to date has registered two-thirds of the 234 total cases of Covid-19 recorded in Brazil as of Monday – Mayor Covas authorised the municipality to buy supplies linked to the fight against the disease without a tender.

In public transport, hand sanitiser must be available to users, especially in underground or suburban train stations.

In Rio, a decree imposing the state of emergency determines "the reduction of 50 percent of the capacity [of buses], which will only carry seated people, as well as in ships, trains and subways." 

Restaurants will have to operate at 30 percent of their capacity and give priority to home delivery services or takeaway food, while only food services will be allowed to remain open in shopping centres.

The decree also establishes restrictions on assistance to Rio's beaches, where on Monday firefighting vehicles urged bathers to return to their homes.

"Avoid leaving your home, for the love of God and for the love of your parents and grandparents," Rio Governor Wilson Witzel said in a televised address on Monday night.

Schools, universities and cultural activities in both Rio and São Paulo had already been suspended since Friday for a period of 15 days, which may still be extended.

Bolsonaro under fire

Brazil, the biggest country in Latin America, with 210 million people, has 234 confirmed cases of Covid-19, mostly concentrated in São Paulo and Río.

Health officials are working to convince the population to take the threat seriously, but some Brazilians remain sceptical  not least Bolsonaro.

The president has drawn criticism for shaking hands and taking selfies with supporters at a rally Sunday, even though his own Health Ministry had recommended he remain in isolation for two weeks after being exposed to several officials who tested positive for Covid-19.

Bolsonaro tested negative for the virus last week, but is due to take another test to confirm.

He said in his radio interview that he would hold a "small party" to celebrate his 65th birthday Saturday, even though some health experts have recommended against such gatherings.

"Life goes on," he said.

– TIMES/AFP

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