Sao Paulo, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced new steps Wednesday to address the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic after a telephone conversation with Donald Trump, who spent weeks downplaying the threat before admitting that coronavirus could kill as many as 240,000 people in the United States.
“We spoke with Donald Trump and exchanged information about a problem that is global,” he said following his call with the US president, promising an additional 110 billion reais ($22 billion) in spending to “preserve jobs” and aid states and municipalities.
Brazil leads Latin America with 5,717 confirmed coronavirus infections and 201 fatalities.
Bolsonaro, whose initial reaction to the outbreak was to accuse the media of sensationalism and denounce Brazil’s state governors for imposing lockdowns to stop the spread, called Covid-19 the “greatest challenge of this generation” Tuesday night in a nationally broadcast address.
But belying those words, the right-wing president returned to social media early Wednesday to reiterate his criticism of lockdowns and post a video of an empty warehouse in the city of Belo Horizonte.
The video’s unidentified narrator says that the warehouse, adjacent to a food market, ran out of supplies because of transport restrictions imposed by state governors.
The Agriculture Ministry rushed to deny the existence of lockdown-related shortages and after media outlets published images from Wednesday showing the warehouse fully stocked and operating normally, Bolsonaro removed the video from his social media pages.
The president has already seen Twitter, Facebook and Instagram take down videos he posted after determining that they constituted disinformation.
Amid the mixed messages, Bolsonaro failed to appear Wednesday before the group of supporters who gather at the presidential palace nearly every morning to hail the president in front of reporters, gatherings that continue despite social distancing guidelines.
Bolsonaro, who has been tested for coronavirus several times after a score of people in his administration contracted the illness, typically takes the opportunity to bask in the approval of his most fervent backers.
And just days ago, the president joined his partisans on the streets of Brasilia to “listen to the people.”
Though Bolsonaro did not connect his change of tone Tuesday night to the somber words from Trump, the Brazilian’s political role model, the reference to Covid-19 as a crisis came hours after the US president told Americans to prepare for at least 100,000 coronavirus deaths.
Last week, Bolsonaro went so far as to issue executive orders rolling back some of the containment measures enacted by cities and states, but federal courts rendered the decrees null and void.
When the governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state and industrial heartland, imposed sweeping restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, Bolsonaro denounced him as a “lunatic.”
And Gov. Joao Doria responded in kind, saying in an interview with Efe that the president was not “in full possession of his mental faculties.” EFE as/dr