The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro is grateful for a U.S. warning that it intended to deny entry to foreigners arriving on flights from Brazil and for “gifts” to help cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the South American country's top diplomat in Washington said in an interview.
The Trump administration announced the travel ban on Sunday and it takes effect on Wednesday. Brazil has the second most confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the world, trailing only the U.S.
“We’ve been in contact with the White House on a daily basis, on a routine basis, discussing this and other issues,” Nestor Forster, Brazil's Chargé d’Affaires, said in a video call from the study of his Washington home. “We are very appreciative of the fact that, you know, there was some consultation beforehand when the president decided to go forward with this measure. And also that the measure came with other announcements.”
The Brazilian diplomat listed 1,000 ventilators the U.S. provided to the country’s Health Ministry, a $7 million donation to help fight COVID-19 and the presence of a Brazilian representative in periodic meetings with White House scientists.
Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly called COVID-19 “a little flu,” is an outspoken admirer of President Donald Trump and has even posted videos to social media of himself watching Trump speak at length.
He last met Trump in March, at the Mar-a-Lago club. A senior Brazilian official present in Florida tested positive for the coronavirus soon after the delegation's return to Brazil, marking the first time someone known to have the virus was in close proximity to Trump. Multiple other Brazilians in attendance— including Forster— later tested positive, raising questions at the time over whether either leader had been exposed.
Brazil, with a population of about 210 million people, is the Latin American country hardest hit by the coronavirus, with more than 24,000 deaths and almost 400,000 confirmed cases. Experts say those figures are significantly underestimated due to insufficient testing.
Before Brazil, Trump had already banned certain travelers from China, Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Iran. He has not moved to ban travel from Russia, which has the world’s third-highest number of infections.
Bolsonaro has insisted people should resume their normal lives, and that an economic catastrophe will be more deadly than the virus. And Forster refuted criticism that the administration has failed to adopt the necessary measures to stop its spread.
“The Brazilian government, led by President Bolsonaro, has been very serious in fighting this disease on all fronts from the outset. Since January, you have an emergency task force set up in the Ministry of Health in Brazil and that we’ve been taking all the measures within our reach,” he said. “Now, of course, much of the implementation of the measures rests on the shoulders of state governors.”
Bolsonaro has railed against state governors for recommending people stay home and imposing restrictions to commerce. The far-right leader has compared the local leaders to tyrants, encouraging his hardcore supporters to protest on the streets.
Since the outbreak began, two of his health ministers have left the job. The first, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, was fired after a series of disagreements with his boss. His successor, Nelson Teich, spent less than a month in charge and resigned after refusing to promote the use of chloroquine to treat patients, as Bolsonaro desired.
Forster explained Bolsonaro’s actions were “a bit different.”
“We don’t have a one-size-fits-all way to fight the pandemic,” he said. “Brazil is bigger than the 48 contiguous U.S. states. It’s a big country with huge regional disparities.”
“You cannot have a one specific recipe and say, you know, let’s lock down the country and forget the consequences. So the president has been very serious about this,” he added.
Forster said he wants to look beyond the pandemic, toward joint research projects between Brazil and the U.S. and the exchange of information “about vaccines, therapy and medicine that we know we’re able to develop to treat this awful disease.”
And he said he trusts the U.S. ban on travelers from Brazil will be temporary.
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