State-owned bank Caixa informed that 22 million people have filed for the BRL 600 emergency salary for informal workers, after filings started on April 7. The payment should begin on April 9 for those with bank accounts at Caixa or Banco do Brasil — another state-owned bank. So far, 9 million applicants do not have an account — but Caixa will wire their money to a free digital savings account.
Experts heard by O Globo said that the emergency program will not be enough to compensate for the halt of the in-person economy and provide assistance for vulnerable populations in Brazil. Tatiana Roque, a vice-president at the Brazilian Network for Minimum Income, was quoted by O Globo saying that 15 million low-income workers are not eligible for the benefit. Another 6 million vulnerable individual entrepreneurs that don’t meet government criteria.
In the latest episode of our Explaining Brazil podcast, editor-in-chief Gustavo Ribeiro and editor Euan Marshall talk about the rupture between President Jair Bolsonaro and Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta — who disagree on pretty much everything about the Covid-19 crisis, from social isolation measures to the importance of hydroxychloroquine as treatment.
On Monday, the president came just shy of sacking the head of the country’s public healthcare system amid the worst pandemic of a lifetime. Listen to the episode to understand what led the government to a crisis — and what to expect from now on.
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The Federal Comptroller’s Office has received complaints about companies that have forced employees to work even with symptoms of Covid-19 infection. Companies that continue to operate during the pandemic were also reported, even after decisions by state governments to close all non-essential businesses.
Altogether, almost 700 complaints were received between March 20 and April 2. Another 177 claims were made against hospitals by their employees. They complain about the lack of safety equipment and the negligence of these institutions in notifying the relevant authorities about positive Covid-19 cases.
Because of the pandemic, the Federal Comptroller’s Office created a direct channel for reporting problems related to Covid-19. Another measure adopted was the creation of a specific portal to centralize all the actions taken by the federal government so far.
Rio de Janeiro’s state lawmakers are voting on a new set of measures on Wednesday that may stiffen the fight against Covid-19 in the second most affected state of Brazil, as reported by radio station BandNews. The main proposals are as follows:
- Applying mandatory sanitary barriers to be installed close to airports, ports and bus stations for six months, extendable for another six months;
- Forcing the state of Rio to provide PPE such as protective masks for security forces;
- Postponing the expiry date of documents and certificates for 90 days during the pandemic;
- A bill that allows the government to use public buildings to shelter homeless people, negotiate credit lines with zero interest and hire foreign health professionals during the crisis.
The federal government sanctioned a law on Wednesday to determine that food purchased as school lunches must be distributed to the parents of children and adolescents who are unable to receive these meals due to Covid-19-related lockdown measures. Similar moves have already been adopted in the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with both state governments also distributing basic food baskets to the needy population.
Following the guidelines of the Brazilian Securities Commission (CVM) and Provisional Decree 931, B3 — the company that administers the São Paulo stock exchange — is adjusting some of its rules and deadlines during the coronavirus pandemic, according to B3 Issuers Director, Flavia Mouta. The main changes are as follows:
- B3 will not monitor penny stocks to make sure they are above the BRL 1/stock level for the time being. Companies will have six months to adjust the share’s value.
- Companies that breach rules in enforcement processes will have 15 to 30 days to submit their defense.
- Companies listed on high governance levels (Levels 1, 2, and New Market) will have 18 months to adjust in case their stocks’ free-float falls below the 25 percent threshold due to buyback programs created amid the crisis.
- B3 won’t issue warnings to companies that breach rules related to the composition of their board of directors, but they must be compliant before their next shareholders’ meeting.
- During the pandemic, the rule that prohibited chief executives to act as board chairman is suspended.
- Companies will have 10 working days, not 5, to host conference calls to report earnings.
The federal government announced that it will allow each worker to withdraw BRL 1,045 from the workers’ severance fund FGTS from June 15 onward, in a measure that may inject BRL 36 billion in Brazil’s economy.
Roughly 60 million workers are expected to be benefitted by the measure, which the government plans on costing by extinguishing the PIS/Pasep fund — an FGTS equivalent for civil servants who worked between 1971 and 1988 — and transferring its balance to the FGTS. However, individual PIS/Pasep accounts will be left untouched.
Funds from accounts related to extinguished job contracts will be released first. State-owned bank Caixa will be responsible for organizing the money’s distribution. Withdrawals will be permitted until December 31.
The lower house will reduce its budget by BRL 150 million due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The money will be taken from expenses on airline tickets, hotel accommodation, services, hiring non-essential services, and purchases of furniture and equipment.
The spending cut was announced by House Speaker Rodrigo Maia this Tuesday during a press conference. The congressman also said that it would be verý challenging to approve the so-called “Mansueto Plan,” which is a much-awaited bill containing measures to help the states overcome their debts.
According to Mr. Maia, the discussion will be postponed so as not to be contaminated by the losses that states are suffering due to their current drop in revenue, resulting from the interruption of the economy amid social isolation measures. “The current understanding is to confront this short-term crisis first,” said the Speaker.
Mr. Maia said that states will suffer losses of up to 40 percent in revenue over the next six months, and that the current moment should be used to discuss how to cover this fiscal gap and seek lines of credit to help companies maintain their working capital and not resort to layoffs.
Meanwhile, judges cling on to their privilege, writes reporter Lucas Berti.
Latin America’s biggest Covid-19 headlines:
🇭🇹 Haiti: The Caribbean country confirmed its first death from Covid-19, as the government reports only 21 confirmed cases (Reuters, in Spanish)
🇦🇷 Argentina: President Alberto Fernández plans to reduce the lockdown to open a limited number of bank branches (Buenos Aires Times)
🇵🇪 Peru: The government will request highway operators to stop collecting tolls during the pandemic (El Comercio, in Spanish)
🇧🇴 Bolivia: Around 200 Bolivians tried to enter the country through the Chilean border, which caused a confrontation with the police (El Deber, in Spanish)
🇨🇴 Colombia: President Ivan Duque is considering adopting the high-risk lockdown experiment that was abandoned by the United Kingdom (Colombia Report)
Despite being the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in Brazil, the state of São Paulo is still only notifying severe cases of the disease, despite a request from the state’s Accounts Court to report all infections, according to news website G1.
Speaking to the local press, the coordinator of Disease Control for the local Health Department, Paulo Menezes, said they will keep following the Health Ministry’s guidelines and notifying only hospitalized people and health professionals that may have been infected.
As of Wednesday morning, São Paulo had registered 371 deaths and 5,682 confirmed Covid-19 cases. In Brazil, the numbers reach 14,152 patients and a death toll of 693.
Brazil registered 114 new Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, the steepest daily increase so far, bringing the total death toll to 667, according to data from the Health Ministry. Total confirmed cases of Covid-19 have reached 13,717, up from 12,056 yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry intends to wait for more clinical evidence before recommending the use of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and other drugs to treat Covid-19 patients. In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said the first results of trials involving 5,000 patients are set to be released on April 20.
“We have already cleared [hydroxychloroquine] for critical patients and those in hospitals. There are still doubts about prophylactic use,” he said. “Doctors have the pen in their hands. If they take responsibility and prescribe it, there’ll be no obstacle to that. But for the Ministry of Health to recommend it, we need more time to see if it is good, or if there are any collateral effects.”
Yang Wanming, the Chinese ambassador in Brazil, had a meeting with Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta this Tuesday. According to the embassy, the pair discussed cooperation efforts between Brazil and China to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a press conference later in the day, Mr. Mandetta confirmed that the government is in contact with the Chinese embassy to negotiate the purchase of health equipment.
Mr. Wanming has been the target of much ire on social media from supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro, after recent spats with Education Minister Abraham Weintraub and the president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro. During the week, the diplomat said China requested an official retraction from Mr. Weintraub, who had insulted the Chinese government with a racist post.
Brazil’s Health Ministry reported it has distributed 53.1 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals all over the country in the past few days and intends to acquire more PPE units soon.
The decision comes amid concerns on whether Brazilian hospitals will be able to adequately protect their health professionals. Public institutions such as Hospital São Paulo — run by the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) — and the Hospital das Clínicas — administered by the Medical Faculty of the University of São Paulo (FMUSP) — started their own fundraising efforts to gather sufficient supplies for the Covid-19 health crisis. As The Brazilian Report published last week, volunteers from all over the country are producing PPE using 3D printing techniques.
According to the ministry, the following items have been delivered:
- 15.8 million masks
- 23.9 million gloves
- 12.4 million medical shoe covers and scrub caps
- 742,000 aprons
- 183,300 bottles of hand sanitizer
Brazilians are more worried about the consequences of Covid-19 on the local and global economies than with their own health, according to poll by Croma Insights Insititute. According to the survey, which consulted 2,973 people between February 15 and March, 94 percent of Brazilians were worried about the impacts of the pandemic on the Brazilian economy, while 9 percent were concerned about their health, and 17 percent with their families.
As the poll was conducted in stages, the institute was able to see a deterioration in expectations during the period. At the beginning of the month, 37.4 percent of interviewees believed that the global economy would face very negative impacts; that percentage increased to 51.2 percent by the end of the period.
Consumption habits have also been changing, as people are buying more hygiene products. Hand sanitizer purchases jumped by 94 percent, protective masks by 54 percent, followed by soaps with a 51 percent increase.
Among the behavior changes adopted by people is avoiding crowds, rescheduling trips, and avoiding contact with people that visited areas affected by the outbreak. Despite these changing habits, 38 percent of people felt unprepared to deal with Covid-19.
The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) research center and the Red Cross are offering extra hospital beds in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the states with the most Covid-19 cases in the country, in an attempt to increase Brazil’s capacity to deal with the pandemic.
In Rio de Janeiro, Fiocruz will supply 200 new hospital beds, half in its unit in the poor suburb of Manguinhos, and they will be ready by the end of the month. Fiocruz is also leading trial studies in an attempt to find a cure, as well as running Covid-19 testing — the goal is to increase production to 1 million tests per month.
The Red Cross Hospital in São Paulo offered 50 beds to receive people infected with Covid-19 during the pandemic. The facility may also be used to build a field hospital that can accommodate a further 100 people, according to the hospital’s administration. The extra beds may bring much-needed help to both states. São Paulo has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths in Brazil, and it is followed by Rio de Janeiro. As of April 7, São Paulo registered 304 deaths, while Rio de Janeiro had 71. Both states were considered a concern by the Ministry of Health, which said the areas may be heading to the “uncontrolled acceleration” of the disease in a report.
The federal government is reportedly set to appeal Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski’s decision to require trade union approval for individual settlements between employees and companies over reducing working hours (and wages) or suspending job contracts during the Covid-19 crisis.
One of the options would be asking for an injunction from Chief Justice Dias Toffoli, who reportedly approved the idea of greenlighting these negotiations temporarily before the government published its provisional decree. However, should the Chief Justice contradict one of his colleagues, he would create additional trouble in an already divided court.
As we explained in our April 7 Daily Briefing, the decision of including trade unions in the process may slow down negotiations severely and creates more judicial insecurity in an already doubt-filled moment.
São Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park will receive a field hospital with 240 beds, to be inaugurated on May 1. This will be the third such field hospital in the state capital, with the other two being located at the Pacaembu football stadium and the Anhembi exhibition and conference center. With the hospital in Ibirapuera Park, the city of São Paulo will have an additional 1,800 beds to face the Covid-19 pandemic.
Governor João Doria also announced that private companies will donate basic food baskets to 4 million people. The food will cost a total of BRL 100 million. State health officials also announced the numbers of people infected and killed by Covid-19:
- There are 4,861 confirmed cases and 304 deaths;
- There are also 733 people hospitalized in infirmaries and another 703 in intensive care.
Trials performed by Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) showed that atazanavir, a drug used by HIV-positive patients, was able to stop coronavirus replication and reduced the production of proteins connected to lung inflammation. The results, researchers say, are more promising still when atazanavir is associated with ritonavir, another medicine used by HIV patients, while chloroquine — advertised by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as a “possible cure” for Covid-19 — had a poorer performance.
The analysis observed the molecular interaction of atazanavir and viral enzyme Mpro — that allows virus’ proteins to be made correctly — in infected cells. Besides acting on Mpro, they found out the medicine might work on the respiratory system. Results are available on the platform BioRXiV.
State-owned bank Caixa has launched a website on which Brazilians can request the BRL 600 emergency salary for low-income citizens and autonomous workers (BRL 1,200 for single mothers). According to news website 6minutos, 9 million workers have already requested the benefit in the first hours after the platform went online.
Payments will occur in tranches to avoid overloading the system and the first batch is expected to happen on April 9, for people with accounts at Caixa and Banco do Brasil — another state-owned bank. Roughly 13.6 million people that are not customers of these banks will be able to receive the benefit from lottery branches, which are run by Caixa and function as limited bank branches.
The benefit will be paid in three waves: April 14, April 27 to 30, and May 26 to 29.