The coronavirus outbreak hammered Brazil on Wednesday, crushing local markets, infecting more members of the country’s political elite and prompting loud protests against President Jair Bolsonaro, whose son waded into a diplomatic spat with China.
On Wednesday federal health authorities announced that the number of Covid 19 tested positive climbed to 428 including four deaths.
Bolsonaro has come under mounting criticism for his lax handling of the outbreak, which he initially labeled a “fantasy.” The virus’ spread represents a major threat for the conservative populist, who was already struggling to resuscitate the country’s weak economy.
On Wednesday night, Brazil erupted to the sound of banging pots and pans and shouts of “Bolsonaro out!” with housebound protesters expressing their anger toward the president. The protests took place in major Brazilian cities and even included projections of “Bolsonaro out!” onto the sides of buildings, according to social media videos.
In a fresh headache late on Wednesday, his son Eduardo, a federal lawmaker, sparked a diplomatic dust-up with China, Brazil’s top trade partner.
In a tweet, he likened China’s role in the coronavirus outbreak to that of the USSR during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, alleging a cover-up. “It’s China’s fault and freedom is the answer,” he tweeted.
His comments, which echoed those of Trump, sparked an angry response from the Chinese embassy, which said he had contracted a “mental virus” while in the United States.
“Sadly, you are a person without any international vision or common sense,” it tweeted at him. “We suggest you don’t rush to become the U.S. spokesman in Brazil, or risk an ugly fall.”
With criticism mounting, the president held an afternoon news conference with ministers - all wearing masks - to announce emergency measures to contain the virus and buttress the economy, including assistance for poorer families and support for a struggling aviation industry.
Financial markets were rattled by the fast-spreading virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
The benchmark Bovespa stock index closed 10% lower, bond yields spiked and Brazil’s currency hit an all-time low of 5.2 per dollar before central bank measures in foreign exchange and bond markets helped to pare losses.
In a fresh blow to many retail stocks, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria on Wednesday recommended the closure of shopping malls in the metro area of the country’s biggest city, while Sao Paulo city hall also ordered commercial establishments closed to the public from Friday until April 5, with some exceptions.
Airline association ABEAR said the sudden halt in travel was the worst crisis ever faced by Brazil’s aviation sector. Demand for domestic flights in the second half of March fell 50% and international bookings were 85% down, ABEAR said.
Bolsonaro said Brazil was considering closing all its land borders, following a decree closing its border to Venezuelans, citing contagion risks and strains on the public health system.
The decree, published on Wednesday, does not apply to trucks shipping goods or cross-border humanitarian aid previously authorized by health officials. The 15-day ban on Venezuelans entering Brazil could be extended, it added.
In another restriction of border traffic, land transport regulator ANTT suspended for 60 days all international bus services. Seven cities neighboring Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, said they would begin reducing municipal transportation until a total shutdown from March 29 onward.
In a an almost empty lower chamber of Congress, lawmakers approved a presidential decree declaring a national emergency, which allows the government to waive fiscal targets and free up budget resources. The decree is expected to pass the Senate next week.