Health

Trump Suspends Travel From Hard-Hit Brazil As Virus Worsens In Latin America

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attracted criticism for calling the coronavirus “a little flu" and has focused on trying to bolster the country’s economy.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters upon arrival at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 24, 2020, amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. | Getty Images
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters upon arrival at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 24, 2020, amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. | Getty Images

President Trump announced travel restrictions from Brazil that will go into effect on Wednesday as the coronavirus pandemic worsens in Latin America. 

Trump’s order comes as Brazil has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world — more than 374,000 — ranking only behind the U.S, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Nearly 100,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S., compared to more than 23,000 in Brazil.

The White House amended its initial order on Monday, moving up the official start of restrictions by two days to midnight on Wednesday. The order did not explain why it bumped up the date of the restrictions. 

The restrictions apply to people traveling to the U.S., with exceptions for groups including American citizens, who had been in Brazil within the last 14 days of their attempted entry. Trump said in the order that he remains committed to trade between the nations.

“The potential for undetected transmission of the virus by infected individuals seeking to enter the United States from the Federative Republic of Brazil threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security,” the order reads.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is an ideological ally to Trump, and he has repeatedly downplayed the virus as well as promoted unproven drugs for treatment, including hydroxychloroquine. Bolsonaro attracted criticism for calling the coronavirus “a little flu,” and has focused on trying to bolster the country’s economy.

During an interview Sunday with CBS, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said the White House hopes the restrictions will be temporary. “But because of the situation in Brazil, we're going to take every step necessary to protect the American people,” O’Brien said. 

Filipe Martins, an international affairs adviser for Bolsanaro, tweeted that the U.S. restrictions reflected others that it has imposed on populous countries during the pandemic, saying Brazilians should “ignore the press hysteria.” 

As countries and cities open up in Europe, Asia, and the United States, the World Health Organization has shifted its focus to the spread of the virus in South America. Brazil leads the region in case numbers, followed by Peru with more than 123,000, Chile with nearly 73,000, and Mexico with more than 71,000.

“We’ve seen many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said Friday during a news briefing. “And clearly there’s a concern across many of those countries, but certainly the most affected is Brazil at this point.”

Brazil, which is the region’s epicenter of the virus, has also struggled to develop effective testing programs. Bolsonaro has deflected blame for the crisis onto local officials and the media as the country’s infections continue to rise, the Associated Press reported.

The local government distributes masks and carries out awareness campaigns about the coronavirus in public transport stations in Brasilia, Brazil on May 25, 2020. | Reuters

“The response in Brazil is far from ideal,” Marcia Castro, a global health professor at Harvard University, told the BBC. “Currently there is a lack of a uniform message coming from the leadership at different levels." 

Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe in March, following his declaration of a national emergency and bans on certain travelers from China. The president has not restricted travel from Russia, which has the third-highest number of global cases.

Also in March, Bolsonaro was part of a Brazilian delegation to the U.S. at Mar-a-Lago that met with President Trump and Vice President Pence. The delegation included a Brazilian official who later tested positive for COVID-19. Initial reports about the trip raised suspicions about the health of Bolsonaro and Trump, though they have both since said they tested negative for the virus