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Brazil court blocks quarantine exemption for churches

March 29, 2020

BRASíLIA: A Brazilian court Friday blocked a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro that exempted places of worship from coronavirus confinement orders.

The far-right president, who was elected in 2018 with the backing of Brazil´s burgeoning evangelical Christian community, had issued the decree on Thursday, declaring religious activities “essential services” alongside pharmacies and supermarkets.

But a federal court in Rio de Janeiro state ruled religious services posed a public health risk at a time when the new coronavirus is spreading rapidly around the world.

“Churches and other places of worship lead to large crowds and the movement of people,” wrote Judge Marcio Santoro Rocha of the Duque de Caxias court.

The government can still appeal the decision. Bolsonaro has clashed with local authorities who have closed schools and businesses in places such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in a bid to contain the virus.

The president, who has called the reaction to the pandemic “overblown,” says such measures are unnecessary and will wreck Latin America´s biggest economy.

Most places of worship in Brazil have already suspended services because of the outbreak, often broadcasting them online instead. However, some prominent religious leaders have refused. Last week, the influential evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, a Bolsonaro ally, called confinement measures “a tactic by Satan,” before back-tracking and closing his churches.