Germany's Volkswagen said on Friday that it will suspend production at its four plants in Brazil owing to a surge in coronavirus infections in the country. The Wolfsburg-based firm said it will stop factories from March 24 for a 12-day period to protect the health of its employees and their families.
Only essential activities will be maintained, it said, Administrative employees will work remotely.
The decision was taken after negotiations with the ABC Metalworkers Union, which is pressuring companies in the region to stop their production lines.
Brazil is South America's top auto producer and a key base for Volkswagen from where it produces models especially for the regional market.
The company brought production lines to a halt last year at the outbreak of the pandemic.
More than 290,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, more than any country except the United States. On Friday, the Health Ministry announced 90,570 new cases, the most in a single day in the country, and 2,815 deaths, the second-worst figure to date.
President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to introduce shutdowns of the economy, saying on Friday they could be a fertile ground for dictatorship because they would push more people into poverty.
I would never adopt the lockdown in Brazil, he said, adding that measures to curb the transmission of the virus could provoke acts of civil disobedience.
However researchers at Fiocruz, Brazil’s leading healthcare institute, called the situation a catastrophe. A paper published on March 16 said intensive care beds in the country's 27 states were now nearly full.
Brazil is going through the biggest sanitary and hospital collapse in history, Fiocruz said. The situation is absolutely critical.