Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday and offered cooperation to help the South American nation deal with its major outbreak of coronavirus, his office said Thursday.
According to the statement Netanyahu expressed solidarity with Brazil’s plight and suggested collaboration with Brazilian industries “in production of medical equipment needed to deal with the pandemic.”
The statement did not note Bolsonaro’s response, saying only that he had congratulated the Israeli leader on his new government and said he hoped “to continue to strengthen ties between the countries.”
With Brazil emerging as one of the world’s most infected countries, Bolsonaro has deflected all responsibility for the coronavirus crisis, casting blame on mayors, governors, an outgoing health minister and the media.
By contrast, he’s portrayed himself as a clear-eyed crusader willing to defend an unpopular idea — that shutting down the economy to control COVID-19 would ultimately cause more suffering than allowing the disease to run its course. The refusal of governors to fall into line with his decree allowing gyms to open, he said, verged on authoritarianism.
Confronted with a travel ban imposed on Brazil by the US because of widespread COVID-19, one of his advisers called it press hysteria.
Since the outbreak started, the Brazilian leader has avoided acknowledging the potential effects of his actions, particularly in undermining local leaders’ stay-at-home recommendations. A rare exception came in mid-April, as Bolsonaro appointed a new health minister tasked with sparing the economy from the coronavirus.
“Reopening commerce is a risk I run because, if it [the virus] gets worse, then it lands in my lap,” he said.
Less than two weeks later, as Brazil’s death toll blew past 5,000, he told reporters, “You’re not going to put on my lap this count that isn’t mine.”
Almost a month on, the death toll in the country of 211 million has more than quadrupled, to 23,473, and continues to accelerate.
On Saturday night, Bolsonaro ventured into the capital of Brasilia to lead by example, this time eating a hot dog bought from a street vendor. Video he posted to Facebook showed supporters snapping selfies and calling him by his nickname — “Myth!” — while those in self-quarantine in overlooking apartments banged pots and pans in protest.
A May 17-18 poll by XP/Ipespe found 58% of those surveyed rated Bolsonaro’s pandemic response as bad or terrible, and only 21% as good or excellent. Governors fared more than twice as well in both counts. The poll had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.
Latin America’s largest nation has confirmed about 375,000 COVID-19 cases, more than any nation except the U.S., and experts say that figure is a significant undercount due to insufficient testing. The strain on Brazil’s underfunded hospitals has pushed them to the brink of collapse in multiple states and prevents some patients from getting treatment.
Netanyahu and Bolsonaro have enjoyed warm ties since the latter became president in 2019. The Brazilian leader is seen as a keen supporter of Israel.