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Re-opening for business, Santa Catarina will be Brazil’s test case

. Apr 23, 2020
Re-opening for business, Santa Catarina will be Brazil's test case Drive-thru tests in Florianópolis. Photo: Leonardo Souza /PMF

It is a haunting scene: a crowd of families, senior citizens, and children, all wearing face masks, scuttle into a shopping mall to the sound of a saxophone cover of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” The staff, with covered faces and protective gloves, cheer the public in with an eerie slow clap. The shopping mall in question is located in the city of Blumenau, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina — the first to effectively re-open its economy after Covid-19 isolation measures and allow shopping malls to operate. This, despite warnings that the worst phase of the pandemic in Latin America is likely to be just around the corner.

In recent weeks, the state of Santa Catarina has been one of the fiercest opponents to social isolation.

Buoyed by the anti-quarantine message from President Jair Bolsonaro, the streets of Santa Catarina&#8217;s cities have seen numerous motorcades beeping their way around town in imported cars, demanding the right to re-open businesses. Jaimes Almeida Jr., the chief executive of the company that administers the Blumenau shopping mall which hosted the aforementioned macabre scene, even went as far as <a href="https://saude.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,dono-de-rede-de-shoppings-oferece-respiradores-em-troca-da-reabertura-de-lojas-em-sc,70003261715">offering to purchase ventilators</a> for state hospitals if he were allowed to open his doors. After receiving the green light from the state government, it remains to be seen when the promised equipment will be provided.</p> <p>In the small Santa Catarina town of Rio do Sul, local business owners staged a collective prayer in front of city hall to ask their mayor to reopen commerce. In the days that followed, Rio do Sul recorded its first five Covid-19 infections.</p> <p>Upon announcing the reopening of commerce on Monday, Santa Catarina Governor Carlos Moisés urged the measure was being done in a &#8220;very responsible and calculated manner,&#8221; including the use of tools to gauge the impact of each isolation policy decision taken by the government.&nbsp;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3464563"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/3464563-coronavirus-pandemic-power-plays-in-brazil-and-the-u-s.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-3464563&amp;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Curve on the rise</h2> <p>Mr. Moisés is a retired firefighter who rose to the governor&#8217;s office on the coattails of President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s burgeoning popularity. In Santa Catarina, Mr. Bolsonaro won over 75 percent of votes in 2018&#8217;s presidential runoff. However, when Governor Moisés decided to uphold restrictions on commerce at the beginning of the pandemic, his pro-Bolsonaro constituents turned on him.</p> <p>While Mr. Moisés might think he has legitimate reasons to reopen his state for business, a major issue across Brazil is that authorities are often basing their policy decisions on <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/03/29/low-testing-casts-doubt-over-covid-19-reality-brazil/">under-reported</a> and <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/04/05/brazil-inability-produce-reliable-covid-19-data-obstacle-policymaking/">unreliable data</a>, as <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> has pointed out on a number of occasions. A survey by local TV station <em>NSC</em> shows that municipal health authorities are recording a combined number of infections that is 34 percent higher than the total reported by the state of Santa Catarina. In the municipality of Sangão, local figures are seven times higher than the state&#8217;s count.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2062971" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2062971/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>According to a recent study by professors from two different Santa Catarina universities, the speed of the Covid-19 contagion curve has accelerated since the beginning of April. Nearly half of the state&#8217;s 1,091 confirmed infections were recorded between April 1 and 10.</p> <p>&#8220;The official message of state and federal authorities states that the outbreak is less serious and is somewhat under control. That led groups of citizens to frontally disrespect social isolation recommendations,&#8221; Oscar Bruna-Romero, a microbiology professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, <a href="https://gauchazh.clicrbs.com.br/saude/noticia/2020/04/com-distanciamento-social-rs-reduz-velocidade-de-transmissao-do-coronavirus-ck98xplqv00md017nlkhuh6bh.html">told</a> newspaper <em>Zero Hora</em>.&nbsp;</p> <iframe title="Covid-19 in Santa Catarina" aria-label="Brazil santa catarina municipalities choropleth map" id="datawrapper-chart-rpa3k" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/rpa3k/1/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important; border: none;" height="400"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}})}(); </script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>As our <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/08/risks-loosening-isolation-measures-brazil-too-soon/">April 8 Daily Briefing</a> alerted, some scientists believe that reopening the economy could only be a reasonable option if Brazil had been under strict lockdown to begin with and thus preventing people from carrying the virus to unaffected areas. This, however, has not been the case. Moreover, opinion polls show that most Brazilians would prefer authorities to “keep people at home to prevent the coronavirus from spreading even if it hurts the economy.”</p> <p>Still, some state governors appear to be caving to President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s political pressure. Perhaps Santa Catarina will serve as the canary in the coalmine to show what may happen when authorities decide to reopen the economy too soon.

 
Marcelo Soares

Marcelo Soares is a Brazilian journalist specializing in data journalism and reader engagement.

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