Brazil’s Covid-19 Crisis Shows What Will Happen if the U.S. Relaxes All Social Distancing Standards

President Jair Bolsonaro is exasperating the Trump playbook

Andy Slavitt
Medium Coronavirus Blog
4 min readMay 22, 2020


Photos by Fabio Teixeira/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Something is happening in the world that we should pay attention to. Sadly we are ignoring it and the many warnings it represents. There is a country that may do a worse job and have a worse outcome addressing Covid-19 than the US — Brazil. It’s not getting better but is likely to get worse and worse.

There are many parallels to the problems in the US. In Rio, the favelas (low-income neighborhoods and slums) share the ingredients that nursing homes, prisons, and public housing have. There are 800,000 in indigenous communities, and Sao Paolo looks a lot like the NYC epicenter. Another sad similarity is the government’s indifference to those populations. Brazil has the highest inequality in the world. The wealthy fly in helicopters and have guards. They are not at risk. At the end of April some cities had run out of coffins.

And the Bolsonaro government shrugs off the Coronavirus. President Jair Bolsonaro calls worrying over it a “neurosis.” He says “there’s nothing to be done about it.” He congregates with large crowds at the beach. He’s holding large, crowded political rallies and has waged a “war” on local governors who have tried to lock down their states. He fired his health minister for disagreeing about social distancing. He is pushing unproven drugs. It’s almost as if there’s a playbook.

Bolsonaro is cementing the impression that certain leaders are more callous or indifferent (Trump, Boris Johnson pre-Covid) than other types like Germany’s Angela Merkel or New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern.

Now hospitals are two weeks from collapsing in Sao Paolo, the same precipice as NYC and Detroit were on. Today there are 1,200 deaths/day in Brazil, not quite US levels, but gaining as Brazil won’t peak until at least June. We are so used to seeing daily death tolls in the US that we have lost all perspective on human life. One difference in Brazil from the US is half the country is not complying with…