Brazil government ad rejects coronavirus lockdowns, saying #BrazilCannotStop

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s federal government launched an advertising campaign against social distancing measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak, the latest flashpoint in a battle between President Jair Bolsonaro and state governors trying to stop the virus’ spread.

A volunteer carries donated aid for poor families at the Rocinha slum as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

The “#BrazilCannotStop” television ad – featuring a slogan similar to a campaign in Milan before deaths in Italy soared – shows scenes of crowded classrooms and street markets.

“For the neighborhood salesmen, for the shop owners in city centers, for domestic employees, for millions of Brazilians, Brazil cannot stop,” the ad said.

Defying public health experts, Bolsonaro has argued for reopening schools and putting Brazilians back to work, scoffing at “hysteria” surrounding the virus he calls “a little flu.”

His position has undermined measures taken by state governors and city mayors to ban non-essential commercial activities and public services to contain the outbreak.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the country jumped to 3,417 on Friday from 1,891 on Monday, as related deaths climbed to 92, according to the Health Ministry. Bolsonaro has suggested the economic costs of lockdowns are more deadly.

Brazil’s central bank on Friday called for emergency bond-buying powers in line with ‘quantitative easing’ policies in other countries, while unveiling a 40 billion reais ($8 billion) credit line to help smaller companies with payroll.

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes also said the government will offer 45 billion reais to self-employed and informal workers, adding that all the government’s coronavirus-fighting measures will total 700 billion reais over three months.

HEALTH MINISTRY UNAWARE

The TV advertisement, shared on social media by Bolsonaro allies including his son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, was commissioned by the president’s office at a cost of 4.9 million reais ($1 million) without consulting the Health Ministry, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a former Bolsonaro ally who has clashed with the president over his handling of the crisis, called the ad “disinformation.”

“More than 50 countries are in quarantine. So the whole world is wrong and the only person who is correct is President Jair Bolsonaro?” he said on Friday. “Brazil can stop to lament the irresponsibility of some people.”

Bolsonaro’s popularity has slipped as opinion polls show most Brazilians siding with governors. Many people across Brazil bang pots and pans in their windows nightly in protest.

In counterprotests on Friday, Bolsonaro supporters drove honking caravans through major cities to oppose the lockdowns, sharing videos on social media with the #BrazilCannotStop hashtag.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at media statement announcing economic measures during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brasilia, Brazil, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

The slogan is similar to #MilanWillNotStop, which became popular in northern Italy in February. Italy went on to become a global epicenter of the outbreak, with more deaths than China.

The mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala, has said he regrets sharing the hashtag.

“Many have referred to that video with a hashtag #MilanWillNotStop. It was a video which went viral on the internet. Everyone was sharing it, I also shared it, rightly or wrongly, probably wrongly,” Sala said in a television interview.

Additional reporting by Tatiana Bautzer and Angelo Amante; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter, Brad Haynes and Sonya Hepinstall

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