Bolsonaro’s Rejection of Covid Vaccine Creates Awkwardness in N.Y.

Brazil’s far-right president, who bypassed the U.N. General Assembly’s vaccination requirement, was the first leader so speak, portraying his country as a success story portrayed unfairly by the media.

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Unvaccinated and defiant, Bolsonaro pushes back against criticism in U.N. speech.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, center, outside his hotel on Monday in New York.Credit…Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters

Sept. 21, 2021Updated 10:46 a.m. ET

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil kicked off the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday by defending the use of ineffective drugs to treat the coronavirus and by pushing back on criticism of his government’s environmental record.

Brazil’s far-right president said doctors should have had more leeway in administering untested medications for Covid-19, adding that he had been among those who recovered after “off label” treatment with an anti-malaria pill that studies have found ineffective to treat the disease.

“History and science will hold everyone accountable,” said Mr. Bolsonaro, whose handling of the pandemic in South America’s largest country has been widely criticized.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s decision to not get vaccinated against the coronavirus has loomed large over his first couple of days in New York. It made for an awkward moment during a meeting on Monday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who hailed the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed at Oxford University.

“Get AstraZeneca vaccines,” Mr. Johnson said during his meeting with the Brazilian president. “I’ve had it twice.”

Mr. Bolsonaro pointed to himself and said: “Not yet.”

Brazil’s president has led one of the world’s most criticized responses to the pandemic. Mr. Bolsonaro repeatedly downplayed the threat the virus posed, railed against quarantine measures and was fined for refusing to wear a mask in the capital.

His government was slow to secure access to coronavirus vaccines even as the virus overwhelmed hospitals across the country. Covid-19 has killed more than 590,000 people in Brazil.

Mr. Bolsonaro, who had a mild case of Covid-19 in July of last year, has said he is in no hurry to get a shot. Earlier this year, the president said he was undecided about getting a vaccine.

“I already had the virus,” he said in a televised video. “I think what must happen is that after the last Brazilian gets vaccinated, if there’s a spare shot, I will decide whether or not I get vaccinated.” He added that “that’s the example the boss must provide.”

This has caused logistical problems when it comes to finding a place to eat in New York, where restaurants require that patrons show proof of vaccination for indoor seating. Mr. Bolsonaro and his traveling party have been taking the rule in stride. On Sunday, one of his ministers posted a photo of the president and several top aides eating pizza standing up on the street.

Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots. Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

“A luxurious dinner in NYC,” joked the minister, Luiz Ramos.

During Mr. Bolsonaro’s speech on Tuesday, activists protested near U.N. headquarters over Mr. Bolsonaro’s environmental and economic policies, which critics say have contributed to devastation of the Amazon rainforest and widespread hunger in Brazil.

Earlier, campaigners projected messages onto a building next to the Brooklyn Bridge that read, “Bolsonaro will lie at the United Nations” and “Bolsonaro is burning your future.”

Mr. Bolsonaro started his speech by telling the assembly that his nation was unfairly portrayed in the press.

“I came here to show a Brazil that is different from what is shown in the newspapers and on television,” he said. “Brazil has changed, and a lot, since we assumed office in January 2019.”

Mr. Bolsonaro’s government has weakened enforcement of environmental laws and hollowed out the agencies responsible for enforcing them. Yet on Tuesday he argued that Brazil should be applauded for how much of its forests remain intact and said the country could sustainably develop land in environmentally critical regions like the Amazon.

“The future of green jobs is in Brazil,” he said.

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