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Populism and the pandemic: The great divide in Brazil

REPORTERS
REPORTERS © FRANCE 24

Populist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is refusing to sacrifice the economy for the sake of public health amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Like him, his supporters downplay the crisis and denounce a "coronavirus dictatorship". But local authorities have adopted lockdown measures against the president's advice. And in the cramped, working-class favelas, the locals are afraid of Covid-19 and are doing what they can to combat a potential health disaster. Our reporters in Brazil investigate.

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Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic reached Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has constantly downplayed what he considers to be a "little flu", denouncing the "hysteria" of the media and openly disregarding the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). Part of the population and many key business leaders are encouraging Brazilians to keep working to save the country's economy, siding with the head of state.

But the governors of the country's 26 states have nonetheless adopted lockdown measures against the president’s advice. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, already one of the worst affected, Governor Wilson Witzel imposed lockdown as early as mid-March. A war-like operation is taking place in the city: eight field hospitals are currently being built in preparation for the expected peak of the pandemic at the end of May. Suspicions of corruption are already hanging over construction contracts and purchases of ventilators.

Many Brazilians would welcome a disciplined lockdown across the country. In the crowded favelas for instance, most of the houses have only one room for five to eight people. Inhabitants, and even local gangs, have started to take matters into their own hands to make sure people respect social distancing and hygiene rules.

At the same time, Bolsonaro is calling for a "return to normality" and the re-opening of shops. He regularly posts videos on his social media channels of his Sunday walks, in which he goes to meet his supporters or street vendors in the country's capital, Brasilia.

>> Watch our Debate: Out of control? Covid-19 in Bolsonaro's Brazil

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