The outbreak of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) led to an unprecedented number of policy responses from public institutions involved in the health and economic sectors. Nonetheless, the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector remained in the background of this decision-making arena. The objective of the study presented herein was to observe and discuss political responses to the new coronavirus pandemic in the context of WASH during the first 40 days of the outbreak, using as cases the five Brazilian states most affected by the pandemic. We addressed this issue with a quali-quantitative exploratory study using content analysis to discuss the direction (for whom and how?) of those policy responses, through the framework of the human rights to water and sanitation. The paper also introduces a timeline to map the reactivity and proactivity of the studied institutions. We identified two major priorities in policy responses to the coronavirus pandemic: population protection and financial and economic sustainability of service providers. In regard to population protection, the findings show that it often did not contemplate all of the population, and that equality and non-discriminations were partially ignored in the laws and regulations. In addition, institutions more attached to service providers were more committed to the provider’s economic and financial sustainability than to measures to directly protect the population.

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