We are not going to have a national lockdown in Brazil
There it was. With that simple phrase, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro dashed the hopes of everyone who thought he might perform a U-turn. The hateful media, the think tanks, the politically-minded state governors, the scores of lockdown lovers, all of them.
That’s when I knew. Brazil was not now, not ever, going to have a national lockdown.
Because, if not now, when?
Let me take you all back a few months. Since roughly August of 2020, Brazilians had been living almost completely free lives. Sure, there were some token rules in place, depending where you were in the vast, continent-sized country, but they were barely adhered too. The first wave had come and gone. In reality, if it hadn’t been for the hysterical media coverage, it would have gone unnoticed, swallowed up by the black hole of constant tragedy and stress within the Brazilian medical system.
By the middle of August, bolstered by high levels of immunity and the onset of the South American summer, Brazil was back to its normal glory. Nightclubs, samba, travel, social gatherings with huge clans of extended family, business conferences, hugs, kisses, dancing, everything. There was even a fair amount of tourism from other countries where people desperately craved an escape from the brutal banality of their lockdown lives. I’ve never seen so many Argentines and Chileans in Brazil, along with a smattering of Portuguese and even some Americans making the great escape from prison colonies like California. The media, largely, gave up on Covid. They turned their attention to the latest Brazilian political soap opera politics (will the senator who’s adopted son, one of 16, poisoned her husband face repercussions? Will the senator’s aid who took a million dollar bribe and then fled to Europe be extradited?) and the battle over whether the Sinovac vaccine would be used.
Then, shortly after Christmas, with the onset of winter, the second wave arrived. I was watching the stories of hospitals collapsing in the Amazonian capital. Shortages of oxygen. Shortages of medicine. These stories began to replicate themselves in other states. If the fan wasn’t shitty yet, it looked to become so very soon.
“Here we go again,” I thought to myself, going slightly pale, I must admit. I became faintly jealous of my homeland of Canada, where things seemed to be improving rapidly and the talk was of lifting all restrictions by April and resuming normal life.
Meanwhile, the deaths in Brazilian cities began to mount. When my state was finally affected, I could see the worry on people’s normally smiling unmasked faces. What if we had been wrong to live freely for so long? Did we bring this on ourselves? What about the new variant? What in God’s name is going to happen now?
Then, on my way for a swim in the ocean on a hot day, I was struck, like lightning, by a quotation from Ernest Hemingway, who almost certainly would be no proponent of lockdown.
Cowardice is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.
Suddenly, I was relieved. Is this not the perfect quotation for our times? This seems to be, at the core, the defining difference between lockdown sceptics and proponents. We understand that, as bad as it gets, it will never be as bad as they can imagine. No matter how good it is, they can only imagine it getting worse. And, as all lockdown sceptics know, these Covid spikes, like bad flu seasons, don’t last forever, as people seem to imagine they will. They come, they rage for a little bit, then they decline with the same rapidity. They can be harsh, they can be cruel, they can create problems for hospitals, but they will fade. Protect the hospitals as best you can, shelter your old folks (or vaccinate them) and let everyone live their lives. This is how infectious disease epidemics have been handled for thousands of years and humanity is, after all, still here.
So why worry?
But this didn’t seem to be enough for some. By this point, the Brazilian media, who are driven to copy the left-leaning international media, saw their chance to try and remove their enemy Jair Bolsonaro once and for all, just like Trump, so a suitably ‘woke’ replacement could be found to lead the country in 2022. The hype machine went into overdrive. Every day, reporters who knew the drill screamed directly into the TV that Brazil needed a full lockdown. The politically aspirant state governors all shouted for the same, damning the “genocidal” regime for abandoning its people to die. #bolsonarogenocidia trended on Twitter for days at a time. Never mind that excess deaths per million in Brazil are lower than in most European countries and, for most of the year, Covid deaths hovered somewhere around the same level as Switzerland per capita.
So, in the face of all this pressure, it was again with a sinking feeling in my stomach that I turned on the TV to watch the scheduled presidential address after weeks of pressure from scientists, media, opposition politicians, and leftist Brazilians. Surely, this would be the moment? My first lockdown, long portended, finally here…
Man, I wish all lockdown sceptics spoke Portuguese, so they could hear exactly what Bolsonaro thought of those expecting him to get on board, play ball, and declare lockdown.
We are not going to have a national lockdown. No, it is the politics of ‘close everything’ that must end. Some governors seem to want my army to go out and help them with their restrictive measures. My army will never go to the streets to keep Brazilians in their homes. Never.
Bolsonaro may be an ass, he may be an environmental disaster, he might be far too close to criminals, and he might be a little too fond of hydroxychloroquine, but you gotta say it… the man has balls.
If a new variant, rapidly rising deaths, overstretched hospitals, travel bans, and international condemnation from the pro-lockdown crowd wasn’t going to lead to a lockdown, nothing ever would.
In Brazil, lockdown will never work, of course. And the funny thing is: everyone knows it. The media, the state governors, the scientists… everyone. Their demands are strictly political. This is a country where the vast majority of people work in the informal economy and can’t stay home, and an even larger proportion will simply do what they like anyway and dare the police to enforce it, who can’t and won’t. The super rich, who run the country, wouldn’t take kindly to being stopped from jetting off to Mexico, or Dubai, or the Maldives, or Miami. At one point, some small town Brazilian mayors put up fences on popular beaches to discourage mixing. Brazilian holidaymakers ripped them down and set up on the sand en masse.
The state governors, too, know the futility of lockdown, even as they scream for one. How do we know? Because they won’t impose lockdowns in their own states. They know such measures would be unenforceable and devastating… for them at the polls, as well as for the local economy, so they instead come up with the weakest restrictions possible, just enough to say they are doing something, and then blame the Government for why they can’t do more. The whole thing is a farcical game.
Curfew between 1am and 6am! All commerce closed for one week! Banning parking at the beach! Look how seriously we take this! Oh, if only St. Jacinda were here!
… I even heard a governor from a landlocked state of 25 million people, smack in the centre of the country, with large populations living in slums, suggest that his state would be adopting a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy. Yeah right. And I’m going to be adopting a ‘marrying Kim Kardashian’ strategy (apologies to the current wife).
Brazil’s neighbours, who tried to play by the rules and use heavy lockdowns, usually ended up having to enforce them with the military. They still ended up with some of the worst deaths per capita in the world and destroyed their economies. Peru, Argentina, Bolivia. They are now, of course, trying to do it again. They seem to never learn. But this time they’re facing serious social unrest. Meanwhile, all measures of criminality in Brazil have fallen to historic lows. In these trying times, people just want to get along, it seems, when they are allowed to.
After seeing Bolsonaro’s middle finger to the lockdowners, I breathed a sigh of relief, finished my beer, and went to the beach with my Brazilian wife, who isn’t Kim Kardashian, but is no slouch either. On the white sand, dipping our toes in the azure water, the whole pandemic felt miles and miles away. Smiles seemed to have come back onto the faces of passers-by. Perhaps people were always more scared of the lockdown than the virus.
And oh, guess what? Here’s the part you won’t hear in the media. A few weeks later, one state after another, cases began going into decline. Deaths are now following. Hospitals are emptying out. Here’s a map of Brazil today, with green indicating sustained decline in cases and deaths and yellow indicating stability. That is a lot of green. No thanks to the national lockdown that never was. Yes, it really is just all about suspending the imagination. Papa Hemingway was right again.
The vampires have now moved on to breathlessly covering India as the tragedy du jour, where they are now shrieking hysterically for a national lockdown that would be even less effective. Putting millions of people in lockdown? How about putting billions of people in lockdown? How well did that work last time? Like I said, nobody ever learns. Maybe they don’t want to…
And Canada? Despite a full year of castigation, flagellation, and finger pointing by scientists, political leaders, media, and their fanatical Karen enforcers, cases and deaths are now soaring. Instead of waiting out the spike, stricter restrictions are being put in to further punish the supposed rule breakers. My elderly father, for whom sailing is the great joy of his life, is now forbidden from driving from his home in the country to the city where he stores his boat, on pain of roadblocks and fines. SHOW YOUR PAPERS! All my favourite restaurants have gone out of business. Playgrounds are closed. Homeless people are being fined for being out after curfew. Ice skaters are getting tasered. Churches are being closed and fenced off. Cowardice.
On the beach, in Brazil, I got to talking with an elderly fellow who was out there with no mask, drinking with his similarly unmasked wife at the beach bar. I asked him if he was concerned about the situation in Latin America’s biggest country, economy, and democracy.
“I’m old now,” he said. “The worst time of my life was living through the military dictatorship. We won’t go back there. I don’t care if I die from this disease. It is better than going back there.”