Brazilians scorn Bolsonaro's coronavirus efforts, back health officials: polls

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilians are increasingly against President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and overwhelmingly support governors and health officials he has attacked for advocating social distancing measures, two polls showed on Friday.

The surveys suggest Bolsonaro’s attacks on governors and even his own health minister may have backfired, although he continues to rail against state and municipal shutdowns, calling them economically disastrous responses to an overhyped risk.

Bolsonaro’s coronavirus performance has been “bad” or “awful” according to 39% of respondents surveyed this week, up from 33% last month, according to pollster Datafolha. Those who consider his response to the health crisis “good” or “great” slipped to 33% from 35% previously.

By contrast, the survey showed approval of governors rising to 58% from 54%, while support for the crisis response by the Health Ministry soared to 76% from 55% in the last survey.

Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has insisted on the importance of social distancing to slow the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease, which has killed nearly 300 people in Brazil in two weeks. His position contradicting the president has raised speculation that he could be fired.

In a Thursday evening radio interview, Bolsonaro said that Mandetta has at times “gone overboard” and lacked “humility.”

“I don’t plan on firing him during the war,” Bolsonaro said, referring to the current crisis.

Bolsonaro has shocked many around the world by persistently playing down the gravity of the pandemic, calling COVID-19 “a little cold” exaggerated by the media and his opponents – even after his political role model U.S. President Donald Trump walked back his own skepticism about the outbreak. His stance has isolated him politically in Brazil.

Another poll released on Friday by XP Investimentos showed that Brazilians overwhelmingly favor social distancing measures, with 80% of respondents supporting them and just 12% calling the policy exaggerated.

The XP/Ipespe poll also showed a jump of six percentage points in less than a month among those rating Bolsonaro’s government “bad” or “awful” to 42% – a record for the survey.

Approval of governors who took steps to shut down schools, businesses and public events to keep people at home jumped to 44% from 26% last month. Even Congress saw its approval rise to 18% from 13%, as disapproval dropped to 32% from 44%.

Bolsonaro said on Friday that Brazilian society will not be able to stand two or three months of economic shutdowns to fight the coronavirus, denouncing social distancing measures enforced by states and municipalities across the country.

“You know my stance. It will bring massive unemployment,” he told supporters outside the presidential residence in Brasilia.

Datafolha polled 1,511 people by phone April 1-3. Its poll has a margin of error of 3 percentage points either way. The Ipespe poll commissioned by XP Investimentos surveyed 1,000 people between March 30 and April 1, with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points up or down.

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