Brazil's economy minister on Tuesday said the country needed to strike a balance between social isolation policies and protecting the economy, hours after President Jair Bolsonaro said hunger was just as big a threat as the coronavirus itself.
Paulo Guedes's comments underscored the divisions at the top that have characterised Brazil's response to the pandemic and come as Bolsonaro's own chief of staff said cabinet backed social distancing policies that the president had decried.
Guedes also sought to defend the government's "war budget" in response to the economic effects of the crisis and rebut critics who have called his continued focus on austerity misguided, saying total spending so far is around 800 billion reais ($154 billion) and could rise further.
Concerns about the pandemic's impact and a wider retreat from risk assets have walloped Brazil's currency and stock market, with the latter losing more than half its value in dollar terms in the first three months of the year.
Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, has grown increasingly isolated over his belief that keeping the economy running is more important than strict quarantine measures advocated by state governors, public health ministers and even his health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta.
Mandetta again appeared to contradict Bolsonaro on Tuesday, repeating his view that maximum social distancing remains vital to stopping the spread of the virus.
"Those who are under 40 years of age have almost zero chance of death. So there's no reason not to let these people work. After all, if the virus kills in some cases, hunger also kills," Bolsonaro told journalists and supporters gathered outside his presidential residence in Brasilia.
The event was marked by ugly scenes when Bolsonaro's supporters harassed reporters.
After a question about Mandetta, who has argRead More – Source