Voice from Brazil


Robert Wegner is a historian of science at Brazil’s national public health institute, Fiocruz.  He spent the 2019 academic year at Illinois conducting research on early 20th century genetics, looking at the work of Eugene Davenport.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In many cities in Brazil, we live under social distancing measures that follow World Health Organization guidance and actions by mayors, governors, and the Brazilian Ministry of Health, in an effort to avoid the tragic impact COVID-19 has had in Italy.

Our president, right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, has gone in the opposite direction : continues argues that Brazil "cannot stop," and has sought to block local governments from taking social distancing steps, and said this is just a "little flu." This opposition to policies intended to slow the spread of the virus has caused Bolsonaro to quickly lose popularity.

Every night at 8pm Brazilians hold protests called panelaços.  People bang pots and pans at their apartment windows or balconies.  Some shout out against the government, and some play protest songs, all of this while remaining inside their homes.

Around the world, scientists urge caution for the elderly and warn against the high reproduction coefficient of the coronavirus. In Brazil, epidemiologists warn that the virus can become a powderkeg in communities with poor sanitation. Our economists also warn that we live an unprecedented situation that demands a different outlook than the one we previously had :  in order for the economy to have a future, we have to help people stay healthy, safe and, most importantly, alive. This requires that healthcare must come before business interests. The president seems unable to grasp this.

Currently, I'm working from home and my family bangs pans every evening in unison with neighbors, some who we know, and others we do not. In this modern and ancient collective ritual, we express our need to get far away from two viruses that spread the death: COVID-19 and "bolsonarismo."


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