Brazil's Bolsonaro shifts on virus threat

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has changed tack on the coronavirus.
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has changed tack on the coronavirus.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has called the coronavirus "one of the greatest challenges of our generation", marking a shift in tone after a week of downplaying the threat and criticising restrictions to public life.

A week before, Bolsonaro had called for a "return to normality" in a televised speech. The approach has left him increasingly politically isolated.

"The virus is a reality. We are facing one of the greatest challenges of our generation," Bolsonaro said in a televised address late on Tuesday, his fourth such speech on the crisis.

He said he was worried about both saving lives and preserving jobs, adding that measures to tackle the virus should not be worse than the disease itself.

"What will become of street vendors, household help and other self-employed workers, with whom I have had contact during my public life?" Bolsonaro asked.

More than 40 per cent of Brazilians rely on informal work and barely have any savings to fall back on.

Bolsonaro pointed to measures the government had already taken, including freezing drug prices for 60 days.

For the 15th day in a row, thousands of Brazilians in cities across the country protested, banging pots and pans during the address in a protest against what they see as a lax and dangerous response to the pandemic by Bolsonaro.

"Out with Bolsonaro" and "Murderer" were among the shouts heard from open windows.

Australian Associated Press