RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA, March 23 (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to be losing the battle of public opinion in his clash with state governors taking a much tougher line on fighting the coronavirus pandemic than the right-wing populist, a poll showed on Monday.
Bolsonaro stepped up his attacks on the governors in a Sunday night television interview, calling them “job killers” for ordering stores closed in an effort to slow the outbreak.
“This is a crisis much worse than what the coronavirus has caused in Brazil,” the president told TV Record.
Brazilians, however, are giving the governors higher marks, according to a Datalfolha poll that found 54% of those polled rated governors’ response to the pandemic as “great” or “good” while only 34% thought the same of the president.
Health Minister Luis Henrique Mandetta, who has contradicted Bolsonaro on the need to restrict public meetings, was also better rated than the president, with 55% seeing his work as “great” or “good.”
The poll said 15% of those polled who voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 are regretting their decision. And 68% disapproved of Bolsonaro shaking hands with supporters outside the presidential palace on March 15, Datafolha said, when he was meant to be in isolation for suspicion of having the virus.
Coronavirus has been spreading fast in Brazil, with health ministry statistics showing 1,546 confirmed cases by Sunday, up from 234 cases a week before. The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the virus has killed 25 people, the ministry said.
In response, many of Brazil’s states have closed shopping malls and schools, banned public meetings, soccer games and religious assemblies, while the biggest city Sao Paulo has begun a lockdown.
Despite his comments on the “catastrophic” impact the epidemic can have on the economy, Bolsonaro’s government issued a decree on Monday allowing employers to suspend contracted employees for up to four months with no pay but not fire them.
Companies will have to maintain health plans, and can negotiate a monthly compensation individually with workers, the decree published in the official government gazette said.
Datafolha polled 1,558 by telephone between March 18-20. The poll’s margin of error is 3 percentage points up or down. (Reporting by Gram Slattery and Anthony Boadle Editing by Brad Haynes and David Gregorio)