By Anthony Boadle
BRAZIL, April 6 (Reuters) – A report published by the Brazilian army strategic study center last week contradicted President Jair Bolsonaro by calling for extensive isolation against the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially triggering a heated public debate within the government.
The study calls for strengthening social distance measures to slow the acceleration of confirmed cases that have doubled in the past six days to 12,056, with 553 deaths related.
That defies a statement by Bolsonaro, which has sought to minimize the risk of respiratory disease, calling on the country to end locking up and let Brazilians return to work.
His rejection of the need for social alienation has caused divisions in his cabinet, with top military officers in the government opposing his position and siding with Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, including Chief of Staff of President Walter Braga, an active Army general.
Military representatives declined to comment on reports from the CEEEx study center, which reports directly to Army Chief of Staff General Marcos Antonio Amaro. Bolsonaro’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The document was published on the CEEEx website on Thursday, but was not accessible on Monday. A military spokesman said the site was “under repair.”
The report supports measures of distance social excitement, or “horizontal,” to avoid a sharp peak in infection, a policy endorsed by health experts but questioned by Bolsonaro.
“Although it is too early for a final evaluation, the initial adoption of a horizontal isolation strategy can be seen to lead to more effective results in leveling the curve,” the report said.
The CEEEx study center said Brazil should only move to isolation that was targeted demographically, or “vertically,” from people who were infected after a number of plateau new cases.
That will allow economic activity to continue, but requires massive rapid testing of Brazilians and the strict isolation of those infected, following the Japanese example, the report said.
The study said the government must take a leading role in rebuilding the Brazilian economy once the epidemic ends. The recommendation could be contrary to the policy of Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes, a free market advocate who said tax cuts would reignite the national economy.
“The country will be the great protagonist of the process of saving public health and economic recovery,” the report said.
The Brazilian armed forces supported the government’s strong role in the economy during the military dictatorship of 1964-1985.
CEEEx said a national reconstruction plan was needed that would depend heavily on state institutions such as the development bank BNDES and maintain social cash transfer programs to help the most vulnerable Brazilians.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
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