As Brazil's Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 1,000, Bolsonaro Greets Supporters on Street, Social Distancing Dissolves

An increasing number of Brazilians are leaving their homes and dismissing social distancing guidelines in a move many regional government leaders say is being encouraged by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly taken to the streets to greet crowds of supporters amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Public transportation numbers, cell phone data and on-the-ground interviews with taxi drivers and pedestrians analyzed by Reuters this week show social isolation orders are being widely dismissed across the country. Brazil, which this week became the first country in the southern hemisphere to surpass 1,000 coronavirus deaths, is led by Bolsonaro, who has reiterated his contempt for social distancing guidelines as more destructive than COVID-19 itself.

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Last month, Bolsonaro said the economic hardship caused by self-quarantine measures are absurd because "we're all going to die one day." Bolsonaro's critics say his frequent appearances among crowds in Brasilia and visits to his son's residential building are undermining social distancing guidelines in the country's largest cities.

Cellular phone data obtained by Reuters from across the Sao Paulo state, Brazil's most populous region, revealed the number of people adhering to "social isolation" hit its lowest point since the nationwide lockdown started on March 24.

Bolsonaro made public appearances at a military hospital and stopped at a pharmacy on Friday, which is a national holiday in Brazil. The president, who is often compared to his American counterpart in President Donald Trump, was greeted at the very public stops by both supporters and angry critics with pots and pans who have ridiculed his flaunting of the social distancing orders. Bolsonaro's popularity among the country's residents has fallen during the coronavirus pandemic, which he last month referred to as a "little cold."

Brazil's health ministry announced Saturday that 1,056 deaths have been tied to the COVID-19 illness out of 19,638 coronavirus cases.

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"Social isolation fell significantly in the past two to three days and that makes our challenge harder," Patricia Ellen, state secretary for economic development, told Reuters Saturday. "We are concerned."

In early March, Bolsonaro and several top aides met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and a bigger group of Brazilian officials gathered with lawmakers and business leaders at a Miami hotel, Reuters reported. A March 7 photograph shows Trump holding a "Make Brazil Great Again" hat while standing alongside Vice President Mike Pence and Bolsonaro. More than two dozen of the individuals who attended these events later confirmed they tested positive for coronavirus.

Bolsonaro has mimicked Trump's premature calls for the country's residents to return to work and reinvigorate the economy despite a growing number of cases and deaths in both countries. Bolsonaro has worked with the country's federal government to ensure more funding and hospital beds for coronavirus patients, but several mayors and state government leaders have urged him to express more support for social distancing directives.

brazil president jair bolsonaro coronavirus
An increasing number of Brazilians are leaving their homes and dismissing social distancing guidelines in a move many regional government leaders say is being encouraged by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly taken to the streets to greet crowds of supporters amid the coronavirus lockdown. EVARISTO SA / Contributor/Getty Images
As Brazil's Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 1,000, Bolsonaro Greets Supporters on Street, Social Distancing Dissolves | World