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Brazil's Bolsonaro exempts churches from quarantine

Aerial view of the Candelaria church and the empty Presidente Vargas avenue in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 25, 2020, during the outbreak of the new coronavirus
Aerial view of the Candelaria church and the empty Presidente Vargas avenue in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 25, 2020, during the outbreak of the new coronavirus MAURO PIMENTEL AFP/File
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Brasília (AFP)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro decreed Thursday that places of worship are "essential services" that must be exempted from coronavirus confinement orders, the far-right leader's latest jab at aggressive containment measures.

The decree, published in the government diary, adds "religious activities of any kind" to the list of exempted services, alongside supermarkets and pharmacies.

It adds that such activities must be carried out "in accordance with health ministry guidelines."

Bolsonaro, who was elected in 2018 with the backing of Brazil's burgeoning evangelical Christian community, has clashed with local authorities who have closed schools and businesses in places such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in a bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

The president, who has called the reaction to the pandemic "overblown," says such measures are unnecessary and will wreck Latin America's biggest economy.

Most places of worship in Brazil have already suspended services because of the outbreak, often broadcasting them online instead.

However, some prominent religious leaders have refused.

Last week, the influential evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, a Bolsonaro ally, called confinement measures "a tactic by Satan."

"My friends, do not worry about coronavirus. It is just another tactic by Satan. Satan works with fear," he said.

Malafaia changed course Friday and suspended his churches' services. But he insisted that was because of official restrictions on public transportation, and said the doors would remain open for worshippers.

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