From Americas Quarterly, Rio’s Beaches Are Proof: Bolsonaro Is Winning the Narrative on COVID-19 by Thomas Traumann
(Brazilian beaches, August 2020
“Sunbathers swarmed Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach on Aug. 30.”)
RIO DE JANEIRO – It was a perfect Sunday in Rio de Janeiro: sunny and hot, with temperatures above 95 F. On Ipanema Beach, you couldn’t walk straight without bumping into volleyball players, or children building sandcastles. Hardly anyone was wearing a mask, or much of anything at all. It almost felt as if the pandemic was over.
It’s not, of course – far from it. Brazil’s national daily death rate has averaged over 900 people in the past seven days, down only slightly from the more than 1,000 a day average since June. More than 120,000 have perished since the outbreak began, a catastrophe second only to the United States. But elsewhere, too, you see signs that many Brazilians have moved on – psychologically, and in their actions. In bars, family WhatsApp groups and on the radio, discussions have shifted from quarantine habits and hand sanitizers back to soccer matches, which resumed in June. In the Aterro do Flamengo Park, across the street from my apartment, joggers are back to their usual numbers – and in contrast with two months ago, hardly anyone now wears a mask.
Even Jornal Nacional, the venerable nightly newscast seen by some 30 million Brazilians, which covered COVID-19 with great intensity during the initial months of the pandemic, has shifted its focus. On Aug. 4, for the first time in 164 days, the program did not mention the virus among its initial headlines. Since then, much of the coverage has shifted to a possible vaccine – as well as the latest corruption scheme involving Brazilian politicians.
How to explain this shift in the national conversation? And in Brazilians’ everyday behavior?
In two words: Jair Bolsonaro.
Secular Sweden remains the world champ in ditching the media mania of the Evil, Dangerous Coronavirus, which kills fewer people per capita than car accidents, and is only a bit more dangerous than a nasty flu.
But it’s good to see a Christian believer also walk away. A bit of “me too”, I admit, but Brazil is bigger than Sweden, liberty is liberty, and the ability to work and eat is not to be sneezed at.
His citizens should thank him for not being a frightened and easily intimidated child, bur rather a man who can count the cost, avoid unnecessary losses, and make his own decisions.
Regardless of the will of the White Smock Priesthood (see: the Imperial College) or the media noise machine.