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President Bolsonaro tells Brazilians "enough fussing and whining" as COVID-19 death toll tops 260,000

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro told a crowd during a speech on Thursday "enough fussing and whining," as the coronavirus pandemic rages on in the country that has the third-highest number of reported cases globally. 

With over 10.7 million confirmed cases, Brazil follows the United States and India to rank third on the list of countries with the most reported infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. It has the second-largest COVID-19 death toll after the U.S., with more than 260,000 coronavirus fatalities.

Bolsonaro was addressing a live crowd at a ceremony for a new railroad, where he appeared to downplay the pandemic. "There must be more than a dozen rural producers (farmers) here for sure," Bolsonaro said, according to Reuters. "You did not stay at home, you did not cower. We have to face our problems, enough fussing and whining. How much longer will the crying go on?"

"We have to confront our problems, obviously respecting the elderly and those who have diseases, but where will Brazil be if we don't stop?" he continued. 

The president has been against social distancing measures and closures, saying last year that strict measures that sacrifice income will ultimately do more harm than the virus, according to the Associated Press. He also called on supporters to encourage their local leaders to lift restrictions on activity. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW), which monitors human rights violations around the world, said in January that Bolsonaro has tried to sabotage efforts to slow the virus' spread, as well as pursued other policies that undermine human rights. 

Bolsonaro called COVID-19 "a little flu" and perpetuated misleading information, HRW says. His administration also attempted to strip states of the authority to restrict people's movements as a way to prevent the spread of the virus, but the Supreme Court in Brazil ruled against it.

The country is now facing its worst phase of the pandemic, with hospital systems threatening to collapse, according to Reuters. 

Health authorities are particularly worried about a coronavirus variant from the Amazon region. The strain appears more contagious and more able to reinfect people, Reuters reports. However, variants from the Amazon, the U.K. and South Africa have been detected in the country, government-affiliated medical institute Fiocruz said, according to Reuters. 

"We are experiencing the worst outlook for the pandemic since it started," Dr. Gonzalo Vecina Neto, who is the former head of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, said, according to Reuters. 

On Sunday, Brasilia, the country's capital, entered a two-week lockdown, with bars, restaurants, malls and schools closed until March 15, the AP reports. Other states also recently adopted new measures to slow the spread, including new curfews. 

The U.S. government has listed Brazil as a "Level 4," meaning there is a high level of COVID-19 in the country and travel there should be avoided.

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