Brazil’s governors write Bolsonaro seeking more support as coronavirus spat festers

Brazil’s governors on Thursday wrote an open letter to Jair Bolsonaro, asking for more federal support in the coronavirus battle amid a simmering conflict between state leaders and the far-right president over how best to tackle the health crisis.

FILE PHOTO: A cleaner disinfects an alley of the Vila Ipiranga slum during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Niteroi near Rio de Janeiro Brazil, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Bolsonaro has increasingly echoed the view of U.S. President Donald Trump that jobs should be prioritized over restrictive quarantining measures. He has grown irate at governors who have taken matters into their own hands, essentially shutting down their states to try and slow the virus’ spread, which world health experts agree is necessary.

The governors, meanwhile, argue that the federal government has not done enough to fund the fight against the virus that has infected some 495,000 people worldwide, including 2,433 confirmed cases and 57 deaths in Brazil, according to officials figures.

“Our main priority is to take care of people’s lives, not forgetting the responsibility of managing the economy,” 25 of a possible 27 governors wrote in the letter. “We once again ask President Jair Bolsonaro to join forces with the governors in the fight against the coronavirus crisis and its humanitarian and economic impacts.”

They also listed eight measures, including easing of state payments due to the federal government and help with the purchase of medical equipment, that they hoped Bolsonaro would agree to.

Separately, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a former Bolsonaro ally who has become one of his chief critics during the public health crisis, said he expected to see concrete federal aid measures implemented within 72 hours.

Bolsonaro is under growing pressure to improve his handling of the outbreak, which he initially labeled a “fantasy” while also repeatedly minimizing its likely impact on people’s health.

Across Brazil, protesters have been banging pans in more or less nightly protests, and Bolsonaro’s support is down in polls.

Brazil’s Health Ministry said on Thursday it will ask the World Bank for a loan to cover an expected 10 billion reais ($2 billion) bill to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

The statement came in response to a report by newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo citing a Health Ministry document sent to the Economy Ministry with a cost estimate of 410 billion reais. The Health Ministry said the number appeared erroneously in the document cited by the newspaper, suggesting the “4” was typed by accident because it appears on the same key as the “$” symbol.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Bill Berkrot