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In Brazil, Government Has Been Slow To Respond To Coronavirus Threat


To Brazil now, where the government has been slow to acknowledge the coronavirus threat. NPR's Philip Reeves is confined to his bureau in Rio de Janeiro, but he can report that the sounds and the mood of the city are rapidly changing.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: My desk is by a big window. It overlooks one of the world's most boisterous cities. During Rio's recent Carnival, my window rattled in time to samba music that thumped across the rooftops all night. Every day after dawn, this sound pulls in.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

REEVES: They're soldiers from an army base beside the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain on their morning run. In the evenings, groups gather noisily on the sidewalk for barbecues and beer.


REEVES: Now, as this city goes into hibernation, its residents are dialing down the decibels. And the streets outside my window are unusually quiet, at least they were until last night, when this happened.


REEVES: Those are my neighbors. You remember that classic movie "Network," where a crazy anchorman gets Americans to lean out of the window and shout they're as mad as hell? These people are doing that, too, but with frying pans and wooden spoons. They're mad as hell with Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, of the way he's handling the coronavirus crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "Bolsonaro out," they cry. Bolsonaro's called the virus exaggerated. He's accused Brazilians of reacting hysterically. The other day, while medical experts were asking everyone to practice social distancing, Bolsonaro joined a crowd of supporters for handshakes and selfies. That was after he led a delegation to Florida, where he dined with President Trump. It's now reported 18 Brazilian officials on that trip have the virus. Bolsonaro says he's not one of them.


PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: Yesterday afternoon, Bolsonaro changed his tune. He appeared on TV with a group of his ministers. They all had surgical masks on, although Bolsonaro took his off every time he spoke.


BOLSONARO: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: "Difficult, tough days lie ahead," said Bolsonaro. Brazil has more than 500 cases. Bolsonaro announced a raft of multi-billion-dollar measures to help his country cope.


REEVES: That failed to stop those clattering pots in my neighborhood. People here worry about Brazil's dire shortage of intensive care beds. They worry about what will happen to the poor if this virus creeps into the favelas, the overcrowded shanty towns on Rio's hillsides. The streets outside my window are strangely quiet again now, yet I suspect that won't be the last time they'll echo to the sound of a president taking a battering.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.