Coronavirus: Brazil's governors rise up against Bolsonaro's stance

They dismissed his argument that the 'cure' of widespread shutdowns is worse than the disease.

Brazil's governors are defying President Jair Bolsonaro over his call to reopen schools and businesses, dismissing his argument that the "cure" of widespread shutdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus is worse than the disease.

Mr Bolsonaro contends that the clampdown already ordered by many governors will deeply wound the already beleaguered economy and spark social unrest. In a nationally televised address on Tuesday night, he urged governors to limit isolation only to high-risk people and lift the strict anti-virus measures they have imposed in their regions.

"What needs to be done? Put the people to work. Preserve the elderly, preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that," said Mr Bolsonaro, who in the past has sparked anger by calling the virus a "little flu."

The country's governors protested on Wednesday that his instructions run counter to health experts' recommendations and endanger Latin America's largest population. They said they would continue with their strict measures. The rebellion even included traditional allies of Brazil's far-right president.

Gov. Carlos Moises of Santa Catarina state, which gave almost 80 per cent of its votes to Mr Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential runoff, complained he was "blown away" by the president's instructions. Moises said he would insist that all residents stay home during the pandemic despite the president's stand.

Politicians of various stripes have also attacked Mr Bolsonaro, including center-right Senate president Davi Alcolumbre, who said Brazil "needs a serious, responsible leader who cares about the people's lives and health."

Undeterred, Mr Bolsonaro doubled down.

"Companies aren't producing anything. They can't pay their employees... We are facing chaos," he told journalists outside the presidential residence in Brasilia.

"We could end up with problems like people looting supermarkets... What do we need to do? Get people back to work. Protect the elderly, protect people with health problems, but that's it."

Mr Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has been criticized for praising Brazil's brutal military dictatorship (1964-1985), also warned the fallout of the coronavirus crisis could put democracy at risk.

"What if this derails the 'democratic norm' you all defend so staunchly?" he asked, adding: "It wouldn't come from me, don't worry."

He compared his approach to the pandemic to that of US President Donald Trump, whom he admires.

"We're following a similar line," he said.