Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has said he will declare this Sunday to be a day of prayer and fasting in response to the coronavirus outbreak, encouraging citizens to call on God to “free Brazil from this evil”.
The right-wing populist, known as “the Trump of the tropics”, met with Pentecostal evangelical pastors on Friday at his official residence in Brasilia, where the proposal was made and acquiesced to.
“With the pastors and religious leaders we will call for a day of fasting by Brazilians so that Brazil can free itself from this evil as soon as possible,” he subsequently told the Jovem Pan radio station.
Like his American counterpart, with whom he was also in touch this week, Mr Bolsonaro has been under fire for downplaying the crisis – he branded it “a little flu”, despite reluctantly declaring a national emergency on 3 February – and pushing back against official advice on social distancing.
Also like Donald Trump, Mr Bolsonaro appears to have prioritised averting economic collapse over public health, having promised to deliver growth and prosperity and lift millions from poverty in urban favelas when he rose to power in 2018.
In taking such a stance, he has found himself at odds with his own cabinet ministers, including health secretary Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who took exception to him urging Brazilians to get back to work rather than stay at home.
The president’s response has allowed conditions to fester to the point whereby Brazil’s death toll from Covid-19 leapt from 299 to 359 on Friday, with 9,056 cases diagnosed.
“Brazil is in a serious crisis. The forces of evil are rising against a God-fearing Christian president and family defender. Sunday will be a day of fasting,” congressman Marco Feliciano wrote on Twitter in response to Mr Bolsonaro’s announcement.
Pastor Silas Malafaia, leader of the Assembly of God, the country’s largest Pentecostal church, meanwhile proposed that the fast begin at midnight on Saturday and last until midday on Sunday.
A former army captain turned combative and controversial politician, Mr Bolsonaro was raised a Roman Catholic and then re-baptised by an evangelical pastor in the River Jordan in Israel in 2016 prior to his run for president, which saw him sweep to victory on the strength of massive Christian support for his “family values” platform, opposing abortion and LGBT+ rights.
However, his handling of the coronavirus crisis has seen his approval rating sag to its lowest level since he took office, with videos going viral on social media in the last few days of Brazilians banging pots and pans from tower block balconies and chanting: “Bolsonaro out!”
“We have two enemies: the virus and the president – I really don’t know which is the worst,” Dr Jamal Suleiman, an infectious disease expert with the Instituto de Infectologia Emilio Ribas in Sao Paolo, told CBC News on Saturday.
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