Ignorance kills. With all its Brexit hubris and nationalist arrogance, the UK government has taken this viral tsunami so lightly that once the waves of the pandemic hit British shores, the country did not even have enough testing kits for NHS workers. Other countries like South Korea and Germany demonstrate that testing is a fundamental tool to tackle the pandemic. Not to speak of the fact that blinded by Brexit ideology the UK government initially pursued a completely different strategy no other serious government in the world was even contemplating (herd immunity). And Brexit was always a suicide option! What about Brexit now, once the transition period ends at the end of this year? The term suicide does not really nail it anymore. Is it a country collapsing in slow motion in front of our eyes?
And then I glance at the country where I spent several years before coming to the UK. Brazil! São Paulo, the city where I lived, is the current epicentre of the pandemic in Brazil. One of the world’s megacities, its streets and avenues gridlocked most of the time, its underground stations, platforms, squares and parks overcrowded with hundreds of thousands of people every day, have turned into deserted and empty spaces, frequented by occasional joggers and pedestrians, a few cars and lorries here and there, the occasional motorbikes. Now, much more like a sleepy, provincial town rather than Brazil’s economic, financial and cultural centre. The state of São Paulo (including the city of São Paulo), which is roughly the size of the UK with a population of about 44 million people, was locked down by the governor of São Paulo, like almost all other Brazilian states, against the explicit will of Brazil’s current president.
The current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is not only a famous climate change denier. He has now also risen to fame as probably the last standing COVID-19 denier. He has started a campaign to open up the country again, ending the lockdown as soon as possible, while almost all of Brazil’s state governors have turned against him keeping their states shut. Instead, Bolsonaro is keen to open churches for the masses to pray (and all the greedy evangelical pastors who never waste a business opportunity to make money and enrich their church and themselves). After all, the disease was allegedly sent from God to punish humans for all their wrongdoings. So, let’s pray! And since God is Brazilian anyway, Brazilians are immune to the virus, at least the image of the strong, masculine, religious and ultra-conservative Brazilian as embraced by Bolsonaro and his supporters. Reality, however, brutally demonstrates that Brazilians (including strong, masculine, religious and ultra-conservative Brazilians) are anything but immune to the virus.
Scientists, however, who know better, are being intimidated, threatened and despised. Bolsonaro has threatened his own Minister of Health, announcing that he would fire him if he continued to speak out against him (after all, Brazil’s Minister of Health has declared several times that the country should continue in lockdown). Bolsonaro has threatened the judiciary whose rulings are upholding Brazil’s lockdown against the decision of the president. He openly defies social distancing and isolation measures.
Ignorance kills! It kills rational thought! It kills empathy! It kills trust! And in the end, it kills human lives. And ignorance turns into the virus’s most trusted ally! The confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country have now surpassed the 8,000 mark, still slightly lower than in Portugal, for instance, but rising nonetheless.