(Update 1 adds details throughout)
By Nayara Batschke
Brasilia, May 9 (efe-epa).- Brazil surpassed 10,000 deaths due to the novel coronavirus on Saturday, making it the sixth most affected country in the world, however President Jair Bolsonaro continued to downplay the situation with actions considered frivolous, such as riding a jet ski.
The South American country with a population of 210 million reached 10,627 deaths after 730 fatalities were recorded overnight, while cases stood at 155,939.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian president rode a jet ski on a lake in Brasilia and took photos with his supporters.
Brazil is already the sixth country in the world with the most deaths, behind the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France, and has surpassed 10,000 deaths less than two months after the confirmation of the first on Mar. 17.
The figures confirm the rapid expansion of the epidemic: in just 10 days the numbers doubled in the country and on Apr. 30, 5,901 deaths were recorded.
Given the current death toll, Brazil’s National Congress and Supreme Court have declared three days of mourning, whilst Bolsonaro has not yet officially spoken to it.
According to a British scientific journal The Lancet, “perhaps the biggest threat to Brazil’s COVID-19 response is its president, Jair Bolsonaro.”
In an editorial published on Saturday, The Lancet said that Bolsonaro “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 has also lost two important and influential ministers (health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta and justice minister Sergio Moro) in the past 3 weeks.”
The editorial highlighted Bolsonaro’s Apr. 28 response to reporters’ questions on the more than 5,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the country, where he had said, “So what? What do you want me to do?”
On Saturday, the same day the country crossed the 10,000 deaths mark, Bolsonaro had planned to hold a barbecue celebration for some 30 guests. In the face of a barrage of criticism, the president canceled the gathering and said on his social media that the barbecue was “fake.”
However, according to a video published by local media, the president instead went out on a jet ski near his official residence in Brasilia where he greeted and took photos with his supporters.
While on the one hand the hospital system in many of the 27 Brazilian states is on the brink of collapse, the government was plunged into a political crisis after Bolsonaro sacked his then-minister Mandetta, an advocate of social isolation measures.
A few days later, former judge and justice minister Moro resigned and accused Bolsonaro of intending to interfere with the Federal Police, which led to the attorney general to launch an investigation under the tutelage of the Supreme Court.
In the economic sector, the epidemic has impacted the already weak Brazilian economy, which has led experts to project a sharp fall in the country’s GDP of 3.34 percent this year.
Amid the negative projections, Bolsonaro continues to defend a return to normalcy.
This week, the Brazilian president visited the headquarters of the top court accompanied by influential business leaders and some ministers to advocate for the resumption of economic activity suspended across the country due to the COVID-19 crisis.
In a meeting with Supreme Court president Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli, Bolsonaro reiterated his opinion that some states and municipalities went too far with restrictive measures despite the scientific community estimating that the epidemic has not yet reached its peak.
This meeting of Bolsonaro, the businessmen and ministers with the judiciary was considered by many as a form of pressure from the government.