BRASÍLIA (AFP) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lashed out on Tuesday (March 24) at what he called "scorched-earth" quarantine policies to contain the coronavirus pandemic, saying they risked wrecking the economy.
Never one to shy from controversy, the far-right leader condemned the containment measures taken by authorities in places such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, saying they risked killing people's jobs in a misguided effort to save lives.
"Some state and local authorities need to abandon the scorched-earth concept: blocking transport, closing businesses and confining people en masse," he said in a national address.
"We need to preserve jobs and families' livelihoods."
Bolsonaro, 65, has repeatedly courted controversy with his statements on the new coronavirus, calling it a "little flu" that has provoked an "overblown" reaction.
His latest comments came the same day the city and state of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic capital, began a partial quarantine in a bid to slow transmission of the virus.
The state, home to 46 million people - roughly the size of Spain - has emerged as the epicentre of the outbreak in Brazil.
Rio de Janeiro, the country's second city and the second-most affected by new coronavirus, has also taken drastic containment measures, including shutting schools, restaurants and its beaches and tourist attractions.
Bolsonaro, whose in-your-face style has earned him the nickname of "Tropical Trump," insisted there was no need for extreme measures.
"The at-risk group (for the virus) is people over 60. So why close the schools?" he said.
He also repeated his accusation that the news media have created unjustified "hysteria" around the pandemic, and said Brazil's relatively young population and warm climate would help protect it from the impact.
Brazil is Latin America's biggest economy and the country hardest hit by the pandemic so far in the region, with 2,201 confirmed cases of COVID-19 illness and 46 deaths.
"This will be over soon. We have to get on with our lives.... We have to get back to normal," he said.
The statements drew immediate criticism and a made-for-quarantine protest, as opponents in various cities banged pots and pans from their windows during the speech to show their dissent.