Bolsonaro will 'soon' sign coronavirus aid deal but wants public pay freeze

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday said he would sign off on a federal assistance program for states and cities hit by the coronavirus outbreak “as soon as possible,” but asked governors for support freezing public sector pay increases.

The bill to distribute 60 billion reais ($10.72 billion) in federal money to states and municipalities was approved by Congress earlier this month. However, Bolsonaro has not signed off on it due to pressure from Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, an avowed free-marketeer who wants more fiscal austerity.

Bolsonaro is under growing pressure for his handling of the outbreak, which looks set to destroy the Brazilian economy and threatens his re-election hopes. In the coming days, Brazil is likely to become the world No. 2 in terms of confirmed coronavirus cases, second only to the United States.

Nearly 19,000 Brazilians have died so far from the pandemic, with 291,579 confirmed cases. The true number of infections and deaths is likely to be higher as Brazil has not been carrying out widespread testing.

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Bolsonaro’s relationship with governors and mayors has grown increasingly bitter. The president is angry over shutdowns they have implemented to stop the virus’ spread and argues that keeping the economy running is more important.

In return for signing off on the aid package, Bolsonaro asked governors for their backing in specific measures freezing public sector pay increases for two years.

($1 = 5.5970 reais)

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