Business blasts Bolsonaro over pandemic

·2-min read

Hundreds of Brazilian business leaders and economists have blasted President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus crisis and called for a new approach as the country grapples with spiking deaths.

A letter published in newspapers on Monday and signed by former central bank chiefs and some of Brazil's richest bankers, underscored a growing revolt against the far-right president.

Many had backed him in 2018 elections.

Without naming Bolsonaro, they upbraided "the country's highest political leadership" for ignoring science, encouraging crowds, hyping unproven treatments and "flirting with the anti-vaccine movement".

Speaking in Brasilia, Bolsonaro did not mention the letter but rattled off the economic achievements of his government during the pandemic.

He said he was still unconvinced by arguments favouring COVID-19 restrictions, saying they only served to kill jobs and further impoverish the poor.

He added that Brazil's focus should be on destroying the virus and not attacking his government.

A surge of infections has made Brazil the latest epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, killing more than 15,000 people last week and pushing hospitals across the country to the limit.

On Monday, Rio de Janeiro and the neighbouring city of Niteroi announced a 10-day tightening of restrictions that includes the closure of non-essential services and schools, as well as a nighttime curfew.

Brazil's government is racing to obtain fresh supplies of drugs needed to safely intubate patients, Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization, said on Monday, after concerns of shortages arose this month.

"We are on the verge of an explosive phase of the pandemic and it is fundamental that, from now on, public policy be based on data, solid information and scientific evidence," wrote the business leaders and economists.

"The country is tired of out-of-place ideas, inconsequential words and late or mistaken actions," they said. "Brazil demands respect."

Among the signatories were Roberto Setubal and Pedro Moreira Salles, whose families control Itau, Brazil's biggest bank, Pedro Passos, co-founder of cosmetics maker Natura & Co , and former central bank presidents Gustavo Loyola and Arminio Fraga.

In a broadside against the government, they called for more urgency in obtaining vaccines, free masks for the needy, better federal co-ordination on the pandemic and a national or regional lockdown strategy.

The message from such prominent economists and bankers cut at Bolsonaro's core political argument that he has defended jobs by opposing lockdowns, which the letter called a "false choice between saving lives and ensuring support for the vulnerable".

"It's not reasonable to expect an economic recovery in an out-of-control epidemic," they wrote.