BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday that governors protesting his decree to reopen gyms and hair salons can file lawsuits against it, escalating a dispute over local lockdowns instituted to slow the spread of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro wearing a protective mask speaks with journalists, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
Bolsonaro’s latest decree widening the list of businesses considered “essential,” announced late on Monday, was in line with his view that the economic damage and lost jobs from shuttered businesses are worse than the effects of the virus itself.
The controversial move came even as the number of cases and deaths in Brazil continue to rise. At the current pace, Brazil is expected to surpass the number of cases in Germany and France to become the world’s sixth-hardest-hit country as early as Tuesday.
The Brazilian Supreme Court has previously ruled that state and local governments have the authority to order businesses to close in the face of the pandemic. Bolsonaro, however, has used his presidential powers to declare an increasingly wide array of establishments as “essential,” allowing them to operate despite the lockdowns.
At least 10 governors have said they will not follow his latest decree declaring that gyms, beauty salons, industrial production and civil construction are essential.
“Governors who do not agree with the decree can file lawsuits in court,” Bolsonaro wrote on social media.
Alternatively, the governors can appeal to Congress to take action to change the law, the president wrote.
“Bolsonaro is walking toward the precipice and wants to take all of us with him,” Rio de Janeiro’s Governor Wilson Witzel said on Twitter.
Right-wing Bolsonaro won election on pledges to institute economic reforms and restore the country to growth after a deep recession.
The coronavirus outbreak has derailed those plans. Sources told Reuters the government is expected to slash its economic forecasts and project a more than 4% contraction in gross domestic product (GDP) for 2020, down from the flat growth previously forecast.
Bolsonaro’s popularity has plummeted since the outbreak began in Brazil. A poll released on Tuesday showed that 43% of Brazilians thought he was doing a “bad or terrible” job, up from 31% in January.
The poll conducted by the MDA research institute and sponsored by transit association CNT also showed more Brazilians approve of how states are handling the virus than how the federal government was reacting.
Brazil had registered 168,331 cases of the coronavirus and 11,519 deaths as of Monday.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Additional reporting by Marcela Ayers and Eduardo Simoes; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Richard Chang