BRASILIA – President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization on Friday after the UN agency warned Latin American governments of the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the new corona virus across the region.
A new Brazilian record for daily COVID-19 fatalities pushed the province’s death toll to Italy’s late late Thursday, but Bolsonaro continues to advocate for the rapid lifting of state isolation orders, arguing that economic costs outweigh risks to public health.
The most populous countries of Latin America, Brazil and Mexico are seeing the highest number of new infections, although the pandemic is also on the rise in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia.
In total, more than 1.1 million Latin Americans are infected. While most leaders have taken the pandemic more seriously than Bolsonaro, some politicians who backed strict closings in March and April insist on opening economies as hunger and poverty increase.
In an editorial on the front page of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, the Brazilian daily highlighted that only 100 days had passed since Bolsonaro described the virus as now “killing a Brazilian per minute” as “a little flu.”
“As you read this, another Brazilian died of the corona virus,” the newspaper said.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health reported late Thursday that confirmed cases in the country had risen above 600,000 and that 1,437 deaths were registered within 24 hours, the third consecutive daily record.
Brazil reported another 1005 deaths on Friday, while Mexico reported 625 additional deaths.
With more than 35,000 lives lost, the pandemic killed more people in Brazil than anywhere else outside the United States and the United Kingdom.
Asked about efforts to loosen social distance regulations in Brazil despite rising daily death rates and diagnoses, World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said a key criterion for lifting lockdowns is slowing transmission.
“The epidemic, the outbreak in Latin America, is very worrying,” she said at a news conference in Geneva. One of the six main criteria for easing quarantines, she said, “One of them is ideally that your transmission is declining.”
Commenting to journalists later on Friday, Bolsonaro said Brazil will consider leaving the WHO unless it ends as a “partisan political organization.”
Bolsonaro’s ideological ally, President Donald Trump, said last month that the United States would end its own relationship with WHO by accusing it of becoming a puppet of China, where the corona virus first emerged.
Bolsonaro’s rejection of public health coronavirus risks and efforts to lift state quarantines have sparked criticism across the political spectrum in Brazil, where some accuse him of using the crisis to undermine democratic institutions.
But many of those critics are divided over the safety and effectiveness of demonstrations against the government in the midst of a pandemic, especially after a small protest was overwhelmed last weekend by overwhelming police action.
Alfonso Vallejos Parás, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the infections are high in Latin America because the virus has slowly gained a foothold in the region.
“It is difficult to estimate when the infection rate will decrease,” he said.