The Brazilian government’s negligent response to Covid-19 has plunged the South American country into a snowballing “humanitarian catastrophe” that is likely to intensify in the coming weeks, the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières has warned.
“I have to be very clear in this: the Brazilian authorities’ negligence is costing lives,” the group’s international president, Christos Christou, told reporters on Thursday after Brazil’s official death toll rose to more than 362,000, second only to the US.
Meinie Nicolai, MSF’s general director, said the actions of the Brazilian government – which under its far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, has downplayed the epidemic, shunned containment measures and promoted treatments with no scientific basis – had made it “a threat to its own population”.
“There is no coordination in the response. There is no real acknowledgment of the severity of the disease. Science is put aside. Fake news is being distributed and healthcare workers are left on their own,” Nicolai said.
“The government is failing the Brazilian people … All Brazilians can tell you that they have people around them that have been buried or intubated [in places] where there are no drugs and no oxygen. This is unacceptable,” Nicolai added.
Asked if Bolsonaro’s government had responded worse than any other on Earth, Nicolai agreed on the basis of Brazil’s failure to learn from more than a year’s global experience in the fight against Covid using techniques such as physical distancing, testing and tracing and the promotion of face masks. “Is it the worst by not implementing what is known? I would say yes,” the MSF chief said.
There is growing international concern over Brazil’s unchecked outbreak and the spread of the more contagious P1 variant linked to the Brazilian Amazon. This week fears over that variant saw France suspend flights from South America’s biggest country, with the prime minister, Jean Castex, lamenting Brazil’s “absolutely dramatic situation”. The British Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to Brazil where a surge in infections has caused a historic nationwide healthcare collapse.
But Nicolai said the Brazilian government’s behaviour was above all a danger to Brazilians, 80% of whom remained susceptible to Covid-19. That meant Brazil was likely to see “an even more catastrophic situation” in the coming months, she warned.
Christou said Brazilian healthcare workers were “physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted” and had been “left alone to pick up the pieces of a failed government response”.
“Everyone I have spoken with in Brazil asked for the same thing: this disease needs to be taken seriously by the authorities, they say … People are desperate, they are mourning and they need help.”
Bolsonaro and his supporters defend the government’s response, claiming their resistance to containment measures is designed to protect the economy. On Monday Bolsonaro’s politician son, Eduardo, falsely claimed on Twitter that lockdown helped the coronavirus to spread. The social media company later said the message had violated its rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information about the pandemic.