BRASILIA: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday called for the reopening of the country’s borders, as he pushes to restart South America’s largest economy, but conceded he may be blamed if the new coronavirus outbreak worsens as a result.
Bolsonaro fired his health minister on Thursday after clashing with him over lockdown measures, which the president argues are overly damaging to the economy and should be rolled back.
But the right-wing populist conceded on Friday that it is not up to him to decide whether or not social distancing measures should be relaxed in states and cities after the supreme court ruled that governors and mayors are responsible for the decisions.
The borders, however, are Bolsonaro’s to control. He said on Friday he had discussed the possibility of reopening land borders, particularly those with Uruguay and Paraguay, with Justice Minister Sergio Moro.
“Opening trade is a risk that I take, because if (the outbreak) gets worse, it will fall on my lap,” Bolsonaro said at the inauguration event for his new health minister, Nelson Teich.
To slow the spread of the virus, Brazil closed its borders last month to nonresident foreigners, with some exceptions, although cargo shipments largely still flow freely.
Brazil withdrew all its remaining diplomatic staff from Venezuela on Friday, after the order to remove them was given by Bolsonaro, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The country’s foreign trade chamber Camex on Friday also eliminated import taxes on an additional 141 types of medical products and hospital equipment, raising to 313 the number of products with zeroed tariffs to help fight the coronavirus epidemic.
Medical experts say the outbreak of the coronavirus is still far from its peak in Brazil as cases and deaths, already the highest in Latin America, continue to rise sharply.
Brazil has 33,682 confirmed cases, with some 200 fatalities per day in the last four consecutive days, bringing the death toll to 2,141 as of Friday, according to Health Ministry data.
New health minister highlights the importance of reliable information
Teich said on Friday that it was important for Brazilians to have information on the COVID-19 and for different areas of the government to work together to combat the pandemic.
Teich stated at the ceremony that one of the biggest issues of the pandemic is the lack of the information, and that he intends to amass a higher amount of reliable and detailed information to be able to make the appropriate decisions, adding that different government agencies should work together to gather important data related to the COVID-19.
“It is not just a clinical problem, but it is about managing the behavior of a society where there is a lot of fear. We have to build trust, which is the beginning of building a solution,” he said.
Teich, a 62-year-old oncologist, said that based on recent scientific research, there is “hope that we will have a solution to the problem sooner than we imagine.”