Coronavirus: Jair Bolsonaro achieves highest poll rating yet despite ‘dismissive’ reaction to pandemic

Hard-right leader previously compared Covid-19 to ‘little flu’

Sam Hancock
Tuesday 13 October 2020 14:10
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Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for Covid-19

Jair Bolsonaro’s government has achieved a record approval rating in Brazil’s latest polls, despite many feeling the last few months have been defined by the president’s “dismissive” and “belligerent” handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The hard-right leader was rated “good/excellent” by 40 per cent of Brazilians surveyed across 127 municipalities, according to a study by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics.

He comparatively polled at just 29 per cent in December 2019 when Brazil did not have a single case of coronavirus.

The South American country passed five million confirmed Covid-19 cases last week and as of Sunday, it has reported over 150,000 deaths.

The president previously compared Covid-19 to a “little flu” and said it should be faced “like a man, not a boy”. Mr Bolsonaro himself tested positive for the virus on 7 July.

Experts are putting the controversial leader’s newfound popularity down to a scheme that was launched in April. In it, emergency aid payments of £83 for all citizens - £166 for single mothers - are paid as a monthly wage to around 67 million vulnerable Brazilians. 

When Mr Bolsonaro announced the plan earlier this year, he noted it was the largest cash-transfer project in Brazil’s history. By the end of August, five months after the scheme launched, the country’s Treasury Department had already spent over £35bn on offsetting the economic effects of coronavirus.  

Still, these new approval ratings are impressive given that Mr Bolsonaro has been consistently bashed throughout the pandemic for making false claims about Brazil’s resilience to the virus, and has even been accused of trying to cover up the true extent of his country’s outbreak. 

Back in March, Mr Bolsonaro suggested that Brazilians were naturally immune to some diseases, and therefore the coronavirus was not a concern.

Brazil is currently the third worst country in the world for coronavirus, just behind India and the US. Over the last two weeks alone, it has counted over 8,000 deaths and almost 350,000 new cases.

Opinions of Mr Bolsonaro’s leadership throughout the pandemic are certainly mixed. In a recent report on the Brazilian president, Al Jazeera’s Darren Jordan said of Mr Bolsonaro: “His dismissive belligerence has seen the coronavirus run riot.” 

The emergency aid payments, which have secured Mr Bolsonaro his record approval rating, are part of a £44.4bn cash injection into the Brazilian economy - meant to help citizens escape financial ruin during the coronavirus lull. 

But Mr Bolsonaro’s new rating - and indeed the new scheme - is far from secure. 

Already, as of last month, emergency aid payments have been halved and are now due to end altogether in December. 

And while Mr Bolonasara has promised to create a new scheme, dubbed the Citizen's Income, in 2021, which he says will include elements of the emergency aid, few details of that plan have actually materialised or indeed been confirmed yet. 

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