Bolsonaro tells Brazilians to film hospitals

Health professionals check a patient infected with COVID-19 at a hospital in Marica, Rio de Janeiro state -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is under fire for suggesting that hospitals are not overwhelmed by the crisis (AFP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)
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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Critics slammed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Friday after he called on supporters to film videos inside their local hospitals to prove they have not been overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The far-right leader urged his backers Thursday to "find a way to get inside and film" to see whether intensive care units are in fact struggling, as state and local health authorities have reported in areas hit hard by COVID-19.

"Lots of people are doing that already, but more people need to," he said in his weekly live address on Facebook.

"The information we have -- I could be wrong, but... no one has died due to a lack of ventilators or intensive care beds. Maybe one case here or there."

He said his administration would pass such videos to the police and intelligence services.

Bolsonaro, who has famously compared the virus to a "little flu," regularly questions information on the pandemic from public health officials and the mainstream media.

Even as the virus has surged in Brazil, which now has the second-highest caseload in the world after the United States, he has railed against lockdown measures in various states, arguing business closures and stay-at-home orders are needlessly wrecking the economy.

Opponents accuse the president of making the health crisis worse.

"The president is recklessly putting lives at risk when he asks his supporters to invade hospitals," said left-wing lawmaker Paulo Fernando dos Santos.

Bolsonaro should instead "just read the bulletins published by state authorities with the hospital occupancy rates," the governor of Maranhao state, Flavio Dino, wrote on Twitter.

"If he wants to visit our hospitals, I'll show him myself."

According to official figures, intensive care units in numerous states across Brazil have registered occupancy rates of more than 95 percent during the pandemic, though the figure has fallen recently in some of those hardest hit.

The World Health Organization -- which Bolsonaro has threatened to quit, accusing it of "ideological bias" in its handling of the pandemic -- said the situation in Brazil's hospitals remained "critical" in some areas.

While the health system is "still coping," the situation in Brazil "is of concern," WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan told journalists in Geneva.

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