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Anger as Jair Bolsonaro to allow unvaccinated visitors into Brazil

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images

The Brazilian government has been accused of seeking to turn the South American country into a paradise for unvaccinated tourists after it shunned calls – including from its own health regulator – to demand proof of vaccination from visitors.

The decision – announced on Tuesday by the health minister, Marcelo Queiroga – sparked anger in a nation that has lost more than 615,000 lives to a Covid outbreak the president, Jair Bolsonaro, stands accused of catastrophically mishandling.

“This government has the policies, the face and the stench of DEATH,” tweeted the leftist politician, Mônica Francisco, one of many Brazilians urging tighter rules to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

“He’s nothing but a ventriloquist’s dummy for the president,” the newscaster, Fábio França, wrote of Queiroga, a cardiologist who is reportedly plotting to run for office next year, with Bolsonaro’s backing.

Brazil coronavirus cases

Átila Iamarino, a prominent scientist and broadcaster, tweeted sarcastically: “Don’t want to get vaccinated? Are you a denialist? A coronavirus router? Come to Brazil for a chloroquine caipirinha. We don’t demand vaccination. The public health service is all yours.”

Under Brazil’s new rules, unvaccinated visitors will need to spend five days isolating after arrival before being tested again. It is unclear if, or how the quarantine will be enforced. International visitors are required to take a PCR test up to 72 hours before departure.

Queiroga defended the government’s stance, telling journalists: “As the president said … sometimes it’s better to lose your life than your freedom.”

The decision not to demand proof of immunisation contradicted the advice of Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, which has been pushing for such measures since last month. In a recent analysis, Anvisa officials warned not requiring vaccination “could turn Brazil into one of the countries of choice for unvaccinated tourists and travellers, which would be undesirable given the risk this group poses to the Brazilian population and national health service.”

Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who claims to be unvaccinated and has repeatedly resisted Covid containment measures, publicly challenged Anvisa on Tuesday.

In a speech to business leaders, the president falsely claimed the government agency was seeking to shut down Brazil’s airspace. “Bloody hell, this again? Are we really going to start going on about this business again?” Bolsonaro complained, before sniffing: “Ah, Omicron! We’ve got bags of variants ahead of us.”

Brazil’s Covid disaster has eased in recent weeks after a hugely successful vaccination campaign spearheaded by its NHS-inspired public health service, SUS. Nearly 138 million people – 64.6% of the entire population – have been fully jabbed, with more shots administered than anywhere else apart from China, India and the US. Fewer than 200 daily deaths are being reported on average, compared with more than 4,000 at the peak of Brazil’s second wave in April.

However, health specialists fear that progress could be undone by Omicron and Bolsonaro’s opposition to tougher rules for international travellers.

The mayor of Rio, Brazil’s top tourist destination, is among those pushing for proof of vaccination to be required of foreign visitors. In October, Eduardo Paes said he had a simple message for unvaccinated sun-seekers thinking of visiting his city: “Please, don’t come”.

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