July 2, 2020
As Brazilian athletes were preparing for the upcoming Summer Olympics, a growing global health crisis shifted the government’s attention from winning gold medals to securing testing kits. On February 16th, the Brazilian government ordered the deployment of 220,000 soldiers to hand out educational material to citizens on how to combat the new virus that was ravaging the country, a strategy that proved effective in mitigating the spread of the disease. The year was 2016, and Zika virus was the disease.
Four years later, Brazil is losing the battle against a more formidable enemy, COVID-19. The country has the world’s second-highest death toll, having surpassed the United Kingdom as deaths reached 44,000. As the situation becomes grimmer by the day, President Jair Bolsonaro has chosen to replace his two previous health ministers with an army general to lead the country to battle, even though he lacks a background in public health or medicine. The president, himself a retired army captain who has fondly romanticized the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, has downplayed the pandemic, calling it a “little flu.” Thus far, Brazil’s COVID-19 response has been so botched that on May 26, President Donald Trump, long-time Bolsonaro ally, prohibited the entry of foreign Brazilian nationals into the United States due to an increased risk of transmission.