Overview of Brazil’s COVID-19 Response

The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has had a dramatic effect on the lives of everyone across the globe. This has particularly been the case in Brazil, which is now the second-worst affected country in the world behind the United States. Since the first confirmed case in late February 2020, Brazil has deployed a number of strategies to tackle the virus with mixed results. In this article, we outline the main components of the Brazilian government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and analyze its successes and failures.

Background on Brazil’s COVID-19 Outbreak

Brazil’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in São Paulo on February 26th 2020. From there, the virus quickly spread throughout Brazil’s major cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Porto Alegre. Despite ramping up efforts to contain the virus, Brazil has become one of the worst affected countries in the world. As of December 2020, Brazil had recorded over 7 million infections and nearly 180,000 deaths, placing it second only to the US in both categories.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s Early Stance

The initial Brazilian response to the COVID-19 pandemic was largely shaped by the country’s President, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro was widely criticized for his dismissive attitude towards the virus, which was accompanied by a plan for restricted lockdowns and a focus on economic growth over public health. Furthermore, the President repeatedly clashed with the governors of Brazil’s 26 states and the Federal District over issues such as the possibility of shared fiscal resources and the implementation of mandatory distancing policies.

Brazil’s Containment Measures

Despite President Bolsonaro’s opposition to stringent containment measures, the governors of many of Brazil’s states were quick to impose social distancing rules, restrictions on movement, and business closures. In some of the hardest-hit regions, such as the city of São Paulo, lockdowns were initially imposed in March 2020 and then reinforced throughout the following months.

In August 2020, the Brazilian government passed a law mandating the establishment of social assistance funds for those affected by the pandemic, a decision which Bolsonaro had originally opposed. Through initiatives such as this, the Brazilian government has sought to alleviate the economic pressures of the pandemic, while also attempting to protect vulnerable populations.

Relaxed Social Distancing Guidelines

Despite Brazil’s lull in cases during the summer of 2020, the country was hit hard by a second wave of COVID-19 in the autumn. This led to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, prompting many states to re-introduce restrictions in an attempt to contain the virus. However, despite calls from health experts, President Bolsonaro opted to ease the country’s social distancing guidelines.

Post-COVID-19 Recovery Plan

In November 2020, the government of Brazil unveiled a recovery plan called Rio de Janeiro-2030. This plan was designed to assist the country in recovering from the economic shock of the pandemic and to spur economic growth over the next decade.

The plan, which was approved by President Bolsonaro, will focus on improving the country’s infrastructure, healthcare, and educational systems. Furthermore, it will invest resources into modernizing Brazil’s agricultural sector, while providing cash to small businesses that have been impacted by the crisis.

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

In recent weeks, Brazil has started to roll out mass inoculations with a locally-produced vaccine called CoronaVac. While the Brazilian government initially faced criticism for allegedly suppressing the efficacy figures of the vaccine, it has since become the first developing country to launch a nationwide vaccination campaign.

Despite the rollout’s successes, the process has been slow-moving due to a lack of sufficient vaccine supplies and a relatively limited supply of necessary healthcare items such as syringes. This has been compounded by the decision to prioritize doctors and the elderly, leaving a large portion of the population unable to access the vaccine.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge for countries all over the world, no more so than in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro has largely been criticized for his handling of the pandemic, with his focus on economic growth over public health leading to a heightened rate of infection in the country.

Nevertheless, the Brazilian government has taken some positive steps to tackle the virus, from investing in social assistance funds to rolling out a mass vaccination program. It is hoped that these steps, along with the relaxation of restrictions, will enable the country to gradually recover from the crisis and get closer to pre-COVID-19 numbers.