Brazil's Bolsonaro says athletic past would protect him from coronavirus symptoms

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Jair Bolsonaro has pushed back against lockdown measures enacted by regional governments
Jair Bolsonaro has pushed back against lockdown measures enacted by regional governments Credit: Reuters

Brazil's far-Right president Jair Bolsonaro has claimed that "as an athlete" he would have "nothing to worry about" were he to contract the coronavirus as he pushed back against lockdown measures.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, Mr Bolsonaro called for schools to reopen and people to go back to work, despite the upcoming Covid-19 crisis facing the country.

Citing his "past as an athlete", Mr Bolsonaro—who turned 65 at the weekend—said he would be unaffected by the coronavirus. "In the worst case, I would have a little cold".

Mr Bolsonaro also complained that state governments should abandon their "scorched earth" policies of isolation and restriction of movement, claiming that Brazil must "return to normality".

"The risk group is people over 60 years old. So why are we closing schools?"

Lessons have been suspended in all of Brazil's 27 states, along with varying degrees of lockdown measure.

São Paulo, Brazil's most populous state and the country's financial centre, has closed all non-essential businesses and is restricting the movement of citizens.

In Rio de Janeiro, the city's iconic beaches have been closed, and commerce has been forced to shut for the foreseeable future.

Many of Brazil's state governors are political opponents of Jair Bolsonaro, and the president sees them as undermining his authority by imposing regional lockdowns.

In a video-conference between the president and governors on Wednesday morning, São Paulo governor João Doria traded insults with Mr Bolsonaro and claimed he would take "legal action" if needed.

"We have 40 deaths in our state. These aren't fake deaths, Mr President. This is not just a 'little flu,'" declared Mr Doria.

Brazil has so far recorded 2,201 cases of Covid-19 and 46 deaths, all but two occurring in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Mr Bolsonaro has called for Brazil to adopt a "vertical" approach to isolation, as opposed to the horizontal isolation which is being employed around the world.

The president's proposal is that all people aged 60 and over, or those with prior health complaints, should remain at home while the rest go to work. "Our lives must go on, jobs must be kept, families' livelihoods must be preserved", he said.

Reports in Brasilia suggest that Mr Bolsonaro's new isolation approach will force his Health Minister, physician Luiz Henrique Mandetta, to resign in protest.

Mr Mandetta has quickly become one of the key figures of Brazil's cabinet, having followed the guidelines of the World Health Organization and stressing the importance of self-isolation.

Last week, the Health Ministry forecast that Brazil's public health service would collapse by the end of April, and that the country could be looking at several months of crisis ahead.

President Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been poorly received by the Brazilian public. Every evening since March 17, the former Army captain has been targeted by loud protests, with the population—unable to leave their homes—banging pots and pans at their windowsills and calling for Mr Bolsonaro's impeachment.

These protests, known as "panelaços", became famous in Brazil in 2015, kicking off the movement that culminated with the impeachment of center-Left president Dilma Rousseff. According to recent polls, 45 per cent of Brazilians are in favour of impeaching Mr Bolsonaro.