Imagine a place where individual freedom comes before social duty, a country whose leader (in the midst of a pandemic) opposes forcing the people to wear masks, practice social distancing, or get vaccines. This government exists in Brazil. And what has been the result of these practices?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has become a figure who is admired by the staunch defenders of individual freedom.

At first, the president downplayed COVID-19, then he was very vocal in expressing his opposition to safety restrictions. All this under the premise that stay-at-home orders, for instance, would affect the economy.

Bolsonaro, 66, tries to seem like a strong and confident leader. He participates in crowded events where he hugs people, and he is rarely seen wearing a mask.

And although he suffered from COVID himself, he and most of his government cabinet members have become promoters of “alternative methods” for treating the coronavirus.

The “example” of Brazil

The president said he will not get vaccinated, and in September he arrived at the United Nations General Assembly, where he publicly encouraged world leaders to follow the example of Brazil with the use of “early treatment.”

This refers to hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment whose effectiveness against COVID-19 is not endorsed by the medical community.

The Brazilian president has tirelessly proclaimed that social restrictions (such as lockdown orders, mandatory use of masks, social distancing, and vaccinations) are a form of “socialism.” He adds that individual freedoms and the economy should take priority.

The tragic result

How did Brazil fare with fewer restrictions against COVID-19? Without proper planning by the government, the inevitable happened: infections ran rampant.

According to the health research organization Fiocruz, intensive care units in most state capitals were operating at capacity. This caused the largest healthcare and hospital collapse in the history of Brazil.

Today, the South American country, which has 216 million inhabitants, has the second highest rate of COVID-19 deaths on the planet.

To date, Brazil has about 22 million cases and more than 609,000 deaths. More children have died from COVID in Brazil than in any other country in the world.

And the economy?

The Brazilian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell 4.1% in 2020. By the beginning of October of this year, inflation reached a record 10.25%, leading to an uncontrollable increase in the prices of basic necessities.

Major cities and states began to adopt social distancing measures such as the closure of bars, restaurants, and shopping centers, but they did this months later than they should have. Moreover, a large part of the population has ignored the new restrictions, following the example of Bolsonaro.

On October 26, a Brazilian Senate commission recommended that President Bolsonaro face criminal charges for actions and omissions related to his handling of the pandemic.

A personal or social issue?

No vaccine is a “magic potion” that totally prevents a disease. You need a social element for them to work. If a high proportion of the population is vaccinated, this method will be effective.

It is inconvenient to keep wearing masks, maintain social distancing, get vaccinated, and then get booster shots, but it is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable populations.

In the United States, where the issue is highly politicized, many proclaim individual freedom in opposition to any restrictions. However, individual freedom without social responsibility leads to anarchy.

Find this article in Spanish here.

Diego Barahona A.

Periodista, editor, asesor, y presentador. De 2016 a 2019 el periodista más galardonado en Estados Unidos por los Premios José Martí. Autor del best seller: ¿Cómo leer a las personas?

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