As the cases of coronavirus in Brazil multiply, President Jair Bolsonaro rejects any responsibility for the health crisis and blames mayors, governors, an outgoing health minister and the media.

In contrast, he portrays himself as a seasoned champion ready to defend an unpopular idea: that suspending economic activities to control the COVID-19 pandemic will cause more suffering in the long run than allowing the disease to run its course. And the governors’ refusal to comply with their decree authorizing the opening of gyms, he says, borders on authoritarianism.

When they pointed out that the death toll in Brazil exceeded that of China, he feigned helplessness: “I don’t do miracles. What do you want me to do?” And given the restrictions imposed by the United States on travelers from the South American country due to the spread of COVID-19, one of its advisers pointed out that it was hysteria from the press.

Since the outbreak began, the Brazilian president has avoided recognizing the possible effects of his actions, particularly that of undermining the recommendations of local authorities so that people avoid leaving home. In mid-April he made an unusual exception.

“Resuming trade is a risk that I take because if (the epidemic) worsens, then the responsibility falls on me,” he said.

Less than two weeks later, when the death toll from the coronavirus in Brazil exceeded 5,000, Bolsonaro told reporters: “They are not going to take responsibility for this number that is not mine.”

Almost a month later, the death toll in the country has risen to 23,473, and continues to grow.

The Federal Supreme Court determined that states and cities have jurisdiction to impose containment measures. Given this, Bolsonaro walked decisively on May 7 through the Plaza de los Tres Poderes in the capital to the highest court, accompanied by a group of ministers and business leaders, and demanded that local restrictions be relaxed.

“Some states went too far in their restrictive measures, and the consequences are knocking on our door,” he said, noting that tens of millions of Brazilians have lost their income.

When governors challenged Bolsonaro’s subsequent decree to allow gyms, barbershops, and beauty salons to operate as essential services, he accused them of undermining the rule of law, and hinted that this would lead to “the emergence of undesirable authoritarianism in Brazil.”

On Saturday night, Bolsonaro took to the streets of the capital Brasilia to lead by example, this time eating a hot dog that he bought from a street vendor. The video he posted on Facebook shows supporters taking selfies with the president and calling him by his nickname “Myth,” as people confined to surrounding apartments beat pots and pans in protest.

A survey carried out on May 17 and 18 by XP / Ipespe found that 58% of the interviewees evaluated Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic as bad or terrible, and only 21% considered it good or excellent. Governors received more than double the approval in both counts. The survey had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Brazil, the largest country in Latin America and with 211 million inhabitants, has the second largest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide with 375,000, just behind the United States, and experts say that this number is well below the real one because not enough tests have been applied. Meanwhile, pressure on hospitals has put them on the verge of collapse in multiple states, preventing some patients from receiving treatment.

There is chaos and pain from the lack of leadership, according to Miguel Lago, executive director of the Brazilian Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health authorities. Two health ministers have left office during the pandemic, making Brazil the only nation in the world that can claim such a distinction, he said.

Brazil is “completely incapable of dealing with and responding to this crisis as it should be, with full leadership, clear messages, political stability and unity,” Lago said. “That is not the case here. Basically, what we are seeing is an absolute lack of seriousness and competence. ”

The president fired his prime minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, for supporting the governors’ restrictions. In his exit speech, Mandetta referred to Bolsonaro in what he later confirmed to Época magazine that it was an allusion to the book “La Peste” by Albert Camus. The novel about an infected city includes an excerpt that says that those who did not believe in the plague were the first to die because they did not take precautions.

Bolsonaro’s deputy minister Nelson Teich resigned about a month later after he openly disagreed with the president about chloroquine, the predecessor of a malaria drug promoted by US President Donald Trump as a viable treatment for COVID- 19. During his 17-month term, Bolsonaro has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Trump and the United States.

Trump would have to fire his government’s leading expert on the virus and the expert’s successor, attend rallies to oppose measures against the pandemic and expand chloroquine treatment “to approach the level of incompetence in the face of the crisis” shown by Bolsonaro Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a political consultancy body, said on Twitter this month.

Weeks after praising chloroquine and ordering the army to increase production, Bolsonaro acknowledged last week that there is no scientific evidence of its effectiveness, but noted that the nation is “at war” and that it is better to fight and lose than not to fight in absolute. The country still has an acting health minister: a general with no experience in the sector until before April.

In the capital on Sunday, Bolsonaro supporters staged a small demonstration outside the presidential palace, just as they have for several weeks. The president joined them and once again raised children in his arms.

The president published a video taken by a helicopter that flew over the demonstration, in which it could be seen that the plaza was barely occupied. Perhaps 1,000 people attended in a city of 3 million inhabitants. On a sign you could read: “The confinements kill more than the Chinese virus!”

That same day, Trump prohibited foreigners from Brazil from entering the United States. The American president had already banned the entry of some travelers from China, Great Britain, Ireland, other European countries and, to a lesser extent, Iran. It has not imposed a ban on people from Russia, which has the third highest number of infections worldwide.

Filipe Martins, Bolsonaro’s special advisor on international affairs, tweeted that the restrictions were due to the fact that the South American country has a very large population.

“There is nothing specific against Brazil. Ignore the hysteria of the press, “he said. Bolsonaro shared Martins’ comment on social media, but has not said anything about it.

Upon leaving the presidential residence on Monday morning, Bolsonaro refused to answer reporters’ questions. A supporter caught her attention and begged her to launch a huge campaign to improve her negative image abroad.

“The global press is leftist,” the president told him, and then reached out to point to journalists.

After he got in his car, his supporters addressed the reporters, calling them “garbage” and “communists,” and making obscene gestures and threats.