Brazil’s novel coronavirus outbreak surged to cataclysmic levels on Tuesday afternoon when the country recorded 1,179 deaths from COVID-19 ― a record daily high for a nation that now has more than 270,000 confirmed cases overall.
Brazil passed Italy and Spain on the list of countries with the most coronavirus cases last weekend, then passed the United Kingdom on Monday afternoon. Only Russia and the United States have more ― although researchers have said that a lack of testing means Brazil’s count is likely far higher than official figures suggest.
There are many factors that determine how bad a country’s outbreak becomes, but one unmistakable commonality between the three countries at the top is that their hard-right leaders have downplayed the severity of the crisis and embraced outlandish conspiracy theories, ensuring the outbreaks would be worse than they should have been.
“Everyone who’s been watching Brazil, who’s been seeing the numbers increase day after day, week after week, knew that it was headed in this direction,” said Anya Prusa, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute in Washington. “It’s not a surprise, but it is a real humanitarian tragedy.”
Deep social inequality and large populations already vulnerable to infectious diseases meant that limiting the spread of the coronavirus in Brazil required an aggressive response. Instead, Bolsonaro dismissed the pandemic as a media conspiracy and the disease as a “tiny flu,” fought with governors and state officials over social distancing measures, fired one health minister and drove another to quit, and largely left Brazilians ― especially the poorest and most vulnerable ― to fend for themselves.
“Brazil went into this with a number of challenges that have been...