Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has urged Brazilians to return to work instead of practising social distancing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Bolsonaro has also cast doubt on Sao Paulo’s death toll from the outbreak and accused the state governor of manipulating the numbers for political ends.
Mr Bolsonaro’s accusations were the latest broadside in an ugly battle with Brazil’s governors, who have differed from the President’s view that protecting the economy takes priority over social distancing measures to combat the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Following the advice of public health experts, the vast majority of the country’s 26 governors banned non-essential commercial activities and public services to contain the outbreak in their states.
However the Brazilian leader disagrees with the approach, taking a strikingly phlegmatic view.
“I’m sorry, some people will die, they will die, that’s life,” Mr Bolsonaro said in a television interview on Friday night.
“You can’t stop a car factory because of traffic deaths.”
Mr Bolsonaro said that in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic powerhouse, the death toll seemed “too large.”
Sao Paulo has the most cases and deaths so far of coronavirus in Brazil, at 1,223 cases and 68 confirmed deaths. The national tally is nearly 3500 cases, with 93 deaths.
Mr Bolsonaro’s popularity has slipped during the crisis, and many people across Brazil bang pots and pans in their windows nightly in protest at his handling of it.
In counter-protests on Friday, Bolsonaro supporters drove honking caravans through major cities to oppose the lockdowns, sharing social media videos with the #BrazilCannotStop hashtag.
A government commissioned TV ad pushes the same message.
Brazilian govt launches campaign with #BrazilCannotStop slogan. Similar to Milano’s disastrous campaign one month ago. Today, Milano uses refrigerated trucks to carry bodies. https://t.co/RJoRdWwoUF #CoronaLockdown #BorisJohnson #COVID19 #coronavirus
— John Neves🌹 (@Johncir) March 27, 2020
The slogan is similar to #MilanWillNotStop, which became popular in northern Italy in February. Italy went on to become a global epicentre of the outbreak, with more deaths than China.
The mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala, has said he regrets sharing the hashtag.