Brazil Coronavirus Cases Quadruple in May as Jair Bolsonaro Plays Down U.S. Travel Restrictions

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to play down concerns around the U.S.'s new travel restrictions on Brazil on Sunday, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the South American country soared past 360,000.

COVID-19 cases in Brazil have risen exponentially in the wake of the country's initial outbreak, with the South American nation now having the second highest number of cases globally.

As of May 1, Brazil had logged more than 92,000 coronavirus cases, according to an online tracker maintained by the Johns Hopkins University. In the weeks since, however, that number has nearly quadrupled, with 363,211 cases confirmed as of Monday and with 22,666 cases resulting in death, according to the online tracker.

In response to the growing crisis in the South American country, the U.S., which still has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, has announced strict travel restrictions barring entry to foreign nationals who have been in Brazil within 14 days of seeking entry into the U.S.

The new travel restrictions, which are expected to take affect on May 28, will not apply to U.S. citizens or to most immediate family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. It also will not apply to certain categories of individual visa holders identified in the new proclamation.

In a statement on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the measure would "help ensure foreign nationals who have been in Brazil do not become a source of additional infections in our country."

The travel ban, McEnany said, will not impact bilateral trade.

Despite facing growing scrutiny over his leadership in tackling the coronavirus outbreak, Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, appeared to play down the severity of the new restrictions, retweeting a Twitter thread from his international advisor Filipe G. Martins saying the ban was similar to measures being taken by countries "worldwide."

In a tweet translated from Portuguese, Martins appeared to dismiss the fact that the restrictions were aimed specifically at Brazil, saying the U.S. measures were similar to the country's own prior restrictions barring entry to all foreigners, except residents and immediate family members of Brazilian citizens.

Further, he said, countries around the world have taken similar action to shut down their borders to foreign nationals.

1. A restrição americana à entrada de brasileiros nos EUA tem o mesmo propósito de medida análoga adotada ANTERIORMENTE pelo Brasil em relação a cidadãos de todas as origens, inclusive norte-americanos, e de medidas semelhantes tomadas por ampla gama de países no mundo todo.

— Filipe G. Martins (@filgmartin) May 25, 2020

The president's advisor appeared also determined to shut down any concerns that the new travel restrictions could suggest friction between the U.S. and Brazil.

The U.S.'s decision, Martins said, was in no way discriminatory against Brazil, with the advisor noting that the U.S. had already suspended the entry of travelers from other countries affected by COVID-19, including China, Iran and Britain.

"Brazil and the USA have maintained important bilateral cooperation in the fight against COVID-19," Martins said in a translated statement. "In addition to the donation of 1,000 respirators announced today, the United States has already donated approximately $7 million to Brazilian efforts to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus on our nation's health and economy," he noted.

"It is, as anyone can see, a productive and mature partnership, based on reciprocity and mutual respect between two democracies, very distant from the frictions or problems that the Brazilian media, as ignorant as malicious, insists on trying to invent," he said.

The White House echoed Martins' assertion of collaboration between the two countries, with a senior administration official telling Newsweek that Trump had spoken with Bolsonaro twice over the last two months regarding their shared fight against COVID-19.

The senior official said the Trump administration was grateful for the ongoing regional response from Brazil and U.S. partner nations to help protect the public interests of the U.S. and its people.

They specifically said that the U.S. has appreciated Brazil's close coordination in fighting the pandemic and recognizes their efforts to do so.

As part of the ongoing collaboration between the two countries, the official said, the U.S. will be donating 1,000 ventilators to Brazil to assist in the country's healthcare needs.

While Bolsonaro has faced scrutiny and condemnation over his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, polling conducted in late April appeared to suggest that at least a third of Brazilians continued to back his administration's leadership at the time.

In a study carried out by Datafolha, Grupo Folha's polling institute, 33 percent of Brazilians said they approved of the Bolsonaro administration's leadership, compared with 38 percent who said they disapproved.

Twenty-six percent of those polled in the study, which saw 1,503 Brazilians surveyed on April 27, rated the administration's leadership as "regular," while 3 percent did not express an opinion.

While Brazil now has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, it is still hundreds of thousands of cases away from reaching the same numbers confirmed in the U.S.

As of Monday, the U.S. had seen 1,643,499 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 97,722 cases resulting in death, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

This article has been updated with comments from a senior Trump administration official. Newsweek has contacted the Brazilian government for further comment.

President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro speaks with the press at Alvorada Palace on May 22, 2020. Brazil has seen a sweeping surge in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the South American country. Andressa Anholete/Getty