By Gabriel Stargardter and Lisandra Paraguassu
RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil will seek authorization for a state of emergency to allow it to scrap fiscal targets and free up funds to combat the coronavirus crisis, the government said on Tuesday, as President Jair Bolsonaro announced his second COVID-19 test was negative.
In a statement from the presidency, the government said it will ask Congress to authorize state of emergency measures until Dec. 31.
Brazil reported the country’s first confirmed fatality from the outbreak on Tuesday.
The government’s move places Brazil in a growing list of nations that are directing staggering amounts of money to protect their economies and prop up their health systems to cope with the disease caused by the fast-spreading novel coronavirus.
“In view of the permanent monitoring of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to increase public spending to protect the health and jobs of Brazilians and the prospect of falling revenues, the Federal Government will request the National Congress to recognize the state of emergency,” the statement from the president’s office said.
The state of emergency would free the federal government from abiding by strict spending caps, allowing it to direct more money to the relief effort. The government said it remained committed to fiscal discipline, however.
Shortly after the announcement, Bolsonaro said on Twitter that his second test for the virus came back negative. He had tested negative in an initial examination last week after his communications secretary Fabio Wajngarten, who was part of a presidential party that visited Florida and met with U.S. President Donald Trump, tested positive.
“I inform that my second test for COVID-19 came back negative,” he wrote on Twitter. “Good night to everyone.”
The outbreak represents a major crisis for the far-right former army captain, who initially downplayed the seriousness of the situation and irritated many Brazilians when he went to a far-right rally over the weekend when he was supposed to be in isolation.
In a classic Latin American form of protest, people in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro banged pots and pans and shouted “Get out Bolsonaro” from their windows on Tuesday evening, a sign of the difficulties the president may face as the virus spreads.
Officials in Sao Paulo state reported the death from COVID-19 of a 62-year-old man with a history of diabetes and hypertension. They added that tests were underway on four other possible COVID-19 fatalities.
In Rio de Janeiro state, a 69-year-old man who entered Brazil from New York after testing positive for the virus there died from septic shock and pneumonia, the Icarai hospital in the city of Niteroi said in a statement.
Rio’s state health department said in a statement it could not yet confirm the patient died from coronavirus, adding that tests clarifying the situation would be ready in a few days.
Sao Paulo was the first state to register a coronavirus case and still is the epicenter of the outbreak in Brazil, which had 291 confirmed cases nationwide on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Bolsonaro announced Brazil would partially close its border with Venezuela starting on Wednesday, stopping refugees while allowing trucks with merchandise to continue crossing.
Congress canceled a joint session of the upper and lower houses as lawmakers stayed as a “social distancing” measure, a Senate staffer said. If lawmakers continue to stay away, the government’s agenda of privatizations, tax reforms and public payroll cuts could quickly grind to a halt.
Nonetheless, Rodrigo Maia, the head of the lower house, said the legislative body would not close. He added that he and other lawmakers would fully support any coronavirus aid package brought by the government.
(Reporting by Aluísio Alves, Lisandra Paraguassu and Maria Carolina Marcello and Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Jamie McGeever and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes, Tom Brown and Sonya Hepinstall)