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Bolsonaro warns virus quarantines could ignite 'chaos'

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, pictured on March 20, has sparked outrage among critics with a national address condemning "scorched-earth" containment measures such as closing businesses and confining people
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, pictured on March 20, has sparked outrage among critics with a national address condemning "scorched-earth" containment measures such as closing businesses and confining people AFP/File
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Brasília (AFP)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday containment measures being taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus could lead to chaos and looting, warning democracy was at risk.

The far-right leader has repeatedly lashed out at restrictive measures by local authorities against COVID-19, such as closing businesses and schools in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, saying they risked wrecking the Brazilian economy, Latin America's largest.

"Companies aren't producing anything. They can't pay their employees. And if the economy collapses, there won't be any way to pay public officials. We are facing chaos," Bolsonaro told journalists outside the presidential residence in Brasilia.

"We could end up with problems like people looting supermarkets. And the virus will still be there, too. So we'll have chaos plus the virus."

His latest comments on the pandemic came a day after he sparked outrage among critics with a national address condemning "scorched-earth" containment measures such as closing businesses and confining people.

"What do we need to do? Get people back to work. Protect the elderly, protect people with health problems, but that's it," he said.

The former army captain, who has been criticized for praising Brazil's brutal military dictatorship (1964-1985), then warned the fallout of the coronavirus crisis could put democracy at risk.

"What if this derails the 'democratic norm' you all defend so staunchly?" he asked, adding: "It wouldn't come from me, don't worry."

Bolsonaro compared his approach to the pandemic to that of US President Donald Trump, whom he admires.

"We're following a similar line," he said.

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