Jul 07, 2020 06:14 PM

Who President Bolsonaro might have exposed to Covid-19

After much speculation on Monday night over President Jair Bolsonaro’s health, the Brazilian president publicly declared that he has tested positive for coronavirus, as was broken earlier today by The Brazilian Report. Yet, prior to testing positive for Covid-19, Mr. Bolsonaro may have had close contact with at least nine top government officials, Santa Catarina state authorities, and the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman over the past few days, raising concerns over important government figures who might have been exposed to a deadly virus.

On Saturday, President Bolsonaro attended a Fourth of July celebration at the house of Mr. Chapman, along with five of his cabinet ministers, and one of his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro. During the event in Brasília, no government official — including Mr. Bolsonaro himself — appeared to be wearing face masks or respecting social distancing guidelines.

On social media, Mr. Bolsonaro appeared in a picture side-by-side with Mr. Chapman and Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo. Mr. Chapman and other U.S officials present at the event have undergone Covid-19 tests, and the ambassador’s results have come back negative.

Among other Brazilian officials in attendance were Government Secretary Luiz Ramos (64), Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva (66), Chief of Staff Walter Braga Netto (63), and Special Secretary of Strategic Affairs Flávio Rocha. All but Mr. Rocha are considered as being in the risk group for Covid-19.

The president also visited state officials in Santa Catarina on Saturday to oversee the damage caused by an unexpected “bomb cyclone” in the region last week. State officials have already announced they will take coronavirus tests.

On Monday, Mr. Bolsonaro met with Economy Minister Paulo Guedes (70), who will also undergo testing, after working closely with the president on at least seven occasions in the last 14 days.

The president of Caixa, Brazil’s largest federal bank, Pedro Guimarães (49) and Regional Development Minister Rogério Marinho (56) have also been preemptively tested, with Mr. Marinho testing negative.

In total, the president has had contact with at least 55 politicians and businessmen over the last week. 

Worrisome track record

Fears over a larger spread of the virus within Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration are further heightened given the president’s poor track record of following Covid-19 protective guidelines.

During a pro-government protest in May, Mr. Bolsonaro – known for downplaying the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic – had direct contact with at least 272 people, without wearing a mask, and was seen shaking hands and taking cellphone pictures with supporters.

That dangerous physical proximity between Mr. Bolsonaro and his supporters continued throughout June, despite Brazil crossing the 1 million-threshold for Covid-19 cases midway through the month. In recent days, the president has also lifted previous mandatory requirements for the use of masks inside prisons, stores, industrial sites, and religious temples, as previously covered by The Brazilian Report. 

The press and Bolsonaro

During his public address to announce he had tested positive for Covid-19, President Bolsonaro removed his mask in front of reporters to prove he was still “well.” 

The act was seen by many as irresponsible and disrespectful by the president, who exposed all the journalists involved. A few hours later, the Federal District’s Journalists Union requested all media outlets to suspend coverage of the president’s official residence while Mr. Bolsonaro poses a health threat to the journalists in attendance. The trade union did not rule out taking legal action against the president if any of the journalists involved in his press conference on Tuesday test positive for Covid-19, as reported by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

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Jul 07, 2020 03:51 PM

Fishermen suffer with pandemic aftermath in Natal

At the margins of the Potengi river, the main river that cuts through the northeastern city of Natal, the local docks have been at full capacity for extended periods of time, as many local fishing activities have been halted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Communities of fishermen living on the banks of the river have been left to their own devices, with fish demands plummeting and little access to healthcare and personal protective equipment.

When interviewed by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, fisherman José Celestino Pereira and five members of his family did not own protective face masks and explained that access to hand sanitizer in the community was rare. The improvised brick houses on the banks of the Potengi river are built so close together that social distancing and natural ventilation between neighbors is minimal.

To make matters worse — Natal, one of the largest cities in the Northeast with a metropolitan area of 1.7 million inhabitants — has been on the brink of a generalized public health collapse with municipal hospital beds at 100 percent capacity for nearly a month, making access to proper healthcare upon contracting the coronavirus another challenge.

Another financial blow

Financially, the local fishing industry had already been in decline after oil spills off the Brazilian coast had drastic effects on fish sales, as previously reported by The Brazilian Report.

Now, with demand continuing to plummet amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the already low income of many families relying on fishing is in further jeopardy.

Furthermore, many families are still waiting for the first installment of the BRL 600 (USD 120) emergency salary, designed to aid informal workers, such as fishermen, to weather the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Jul 07, 2020 03:30 PM

Number of Brazilians covered by private health insurance fell in May

More and more Brazilians have lost private healthcare coverage since the beginning of the Covid-19-related economic crisis. At a time when health insurance could be extremely valuable, the number of beneficiaries of private plans fell by 283,000 in the space of two months. The numbers are part of a report released earlier today by the National Agency of Supplementary Health.

In May, 46,8 million Brazilians had private health plans — the lowest number in at least one year. Though May represents the most significant monthly change in twelve months, the agency labeled the situation of the sector “stable.”

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Jul 07, 2020 01:04 PM

Azul airlines fires 1,000 workers, says union

In a new blow to the already embattled aviation sector, Azul Airlines is said to have laid off more than 1,000 airport maintenance workers, according to trade union sources heard by the Brazilian press. They estimate that the layoffs may prompt Azul to abandon operations in 27 cities.

The company has not confirmed how many workers will be dismissed but says that roughly 5,000 jobs were “saved” due to agreements with unions, employing changes such as reduced working hours. It is also reaching severance and retirement packages with a part of its workforce. Another option would be to resort to an aid package from Brazil’s National Development Bank, which is under negotiation.

The job cuts happen as Azul tries to gradually resume operations. In August, it plans to increase flight offers to 303 a day — 290 percent higher than April levels, but still way below the 900 daily flights operated before the crisis.

Azul is the fourth Latin American carrier to face struggles in the pandemic. Brazilian-Chilean Latam, Colombia’s Avianca Holdings, and Aeromexico have all filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection in the U.S. Meanwhile, Avianca Brasil, which had filed for court-supervised reorganization in 2018, went definitively bankrupt with debts amounting BRL 2.7 billion.

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Jul 07, 2020 12:16 PM

Bolsonaro tests positive for the coronavirus

President Jair Bolsonaro confirmed he has tested positive for Covid-19. He told reporters he began feeling ill on Sunday and decided to go to the hospital on Monday after feeling flu symptoms.

Speaking live to reporters, Mr. Bolsonaro assured that he is “well” and will begin working from home. “I’m much better than yesterday, I feel good enough to go for a walk.”

The president claimed he has been taking antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine since developing a fever on Sunday. He has previously touted the medication as a potential “cure” for Covid-19 and stressed that his condition has improved after being administered the drug.

He compared the coronavirus to “catching a little rain,” while yielding that “for some the virus is strong.”

In the past, Mr. Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of Covid-19, referring to it as a “little flu” and suggesting that he would not be affected by the virus, due to his “past as an athlete.” On Tuesday afternoon, however, he included himself among the risk group for the disease.

Contact tracing

As we informed in today’s Daily Briefing, Mr. Bolsonaro met with U.S. Ambassador Todd Chapman for July 4 celebrations — alongside five cabinet members and Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, his son. All authorities had close contact with each other and no one used a facemask. The U.S. Embassy said Mr. Chapman had no symptoms but will undergo testing.

Markets react

The stock market started trading in the red today, falling roughly 0.5 percent at the opening bell. A timid recovery began around 11:55 am (Brasília time) —  but the news of Mr. Bolsonaro’s positive diagnosis plunged Ibovespa further into negative territory, with a 1.5-percent drop. “He appears to be in good health, but markets will obviously monitor his progress very closely,” says Pablo Spyer, director at Mirae Asset.

Covid-19 in world leaders

Jair Bolsonaro becomes now only the second Latin American leader to contract Covid-19, after Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernández.The list of world leaders who caught the virus includes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as his counterparts in Russia (Mikhail Mishustin), and Armenia (Nikol Pashinyan). The virus has also ravaged the Iranian government — with at least 24 members testing positive.

This is a developing story.

Correction: A previous version of this text said Canadian Justin Trudeau had contracted the coronavirus. Reader Leanne Stalker corrected us that his wife Sophie was infected — not Mr. Trudeau.

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Jul 07, 2020 11:02 AM

Bolsonaro shifts attitude toward health amid Covid-19 scare

President Jair Bolsonaro is expecting the results of his coronavirus tests this afternoon, after he reported that he was suffering from mild Covid-19 symptoms. However, his attitude toward his health condition has been diametrically opposed to his consistent stance on the pandemic, toward which he has been largely dismissive.

Mr. Bolsonaro has, on numerous occasions, referred to Covid-19 as a “little flu” and suggested that were he to contract the virus, he would only experience very mild symptoms, due to his “past as an athlete.” However, upon feeling an “indisposition” on Monday, he swiftly underwent exams at the hospital and cleared his schedule for the rest of the week, canceling an important cabinet meeting in the process.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s media is on tenterhooks awaiting the results of President Bolsonaro’s coronavirus tests. A similar situation occurred in mid-March, when the head of state was rumored to have contracted Covid-19 on an official visit to the U.S. Mr. Bolsonaro was tested several times but refused to publish the results, until being forced to by a Supreme Court order.

In episode #108 of our Explaining Brazil podcast, Johns Hopkins associate professor Filipe Campante explained that the president’s opacity is part of a larger strategy to sow the seeds of doubt in the mainstream media, creating an environment where any information can be questioned as false.

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Jul 06, 2020 07:37 PM

⚠️ BREAKING: Jair Bolsonaro reportedly has Covid-19 symptoms

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — one of the world’s biggest coronavirus denialists — is reportedly experiencing symptoms of Covid-19. According to CNN Brasil, the president has a high fever and low blood saturation. The president canceled his entire schedule for the week, including an important cabinet meeting. Mr. Bolsonaro told the cable news channel that he is taking hydroxychloroquine — an antimalarial drug touted by him as a “possible cure” for the disease, but with no proven efficacy.

The Brazilian president took multiple Covid-19 tests earlier today and the results are expected tomorrow around noon. At 65 years old, Jair Bolsonaro is considered to be an at-risk patient.

Mr. Bolsonaro met today with several cabinet members, including Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and Chief of Staff Walter Braga Netto. On July 4, he sat down with U.S. Ambassador Todd Chapman to celebrate Independence Day.

Jair Bolsonaro hugs U.S. Ambassador Todd Chapman on July 4. Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Mr. Bolsonaro has belittled the severity of the crisis. He asked people to go about their business as usual and joined numerous street demonstrations against quarantine rules enacted by state governors. His nonchalance includes not naming a permanent Health Minister for over 50 days — Army General Eduardo Pazuello still holds the office on an interim basis. He also recently lifted the obligation to wear protective masks in several public spaces — a move questioned by infectious disease experts.

In one public address to the nation, Mr. Bolsonaro said that even if he were to contract the coronavirus, he would develop no more than the “sniffles,” thanks to his “past as an athlete.”

The city of Brasília, where the federal government is headquartered, has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases since the local administration began relaxing social isolation rules. It is now the fourth state with the highest contamination rate: 1,688.54 per 100,000 people.

Change of tone?

Talking to CNN Brasil about his possible Covid-19 infection is certainly an inflection from his previous behavior. 

Early in March, President Jair Bolsonaro had dinner with U.S. President Donald Trump at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago hotel, in Florida. After that trip, at least 22 members of the presidential entourage tested positive for Covid-19. As of March 19, three percent of all cases in Brazil had shared a plane with the president.

But between March and May, Mr. Bolsonaro was coy about his health situation. He took three tests — but refused to disclose their results. The case went to the Supreme Court, forcing him to make the tests public. All three came back negative.

A blow to Bolsonaro’s political strategy

As reporter José Roberto Castro explained this weekend, Mr. Bolsonaro had launched a strategy to improve his approval ratings in the Northeast region — where he polls the worst. That would include a series of trips to the region with local leaders, a plan that is now on hold.

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Jul 06, 2020 06:53 PM

Government clears third phase of vaccine testing with 9,000 volunteers

The National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) authorized the third and final round of testing of a prospective Covid-19 vaccine developed by Chinese biological institute Sinovac Biotech. The third phase will conduct testing on 9,000 volunteers across four Brazilian states, including Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and the Federal District.

According to São Paulo Governor João Doria, vaccines will be administered starting on July 20 on active health workers that have not yet contracted the coronavirus. The trials are being conducted in partnership with São Paulo’s Butantan Institute. If proven effective, Brazil will receive 60 million shots in early 2021. Sinovac’s vaccine is one of three prospective inoculations worldwide to have reached the third round of trials, when mass testing is conducted on humans.

Brazil in the Covid-19 vaccine race

Another promising study led by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca is also conducting its final round of testing in Brazil, as 5,000 volunteers began receiving the prospective vaccine midway through June.

The federal government has already established a partnership with AstraZeneca’s vaccine to subsidize part of the development, with 30.4 million shots expected to be available by the end of 2020. There are as of yet no indications that the vaccine will be successful, making the investment a huge gamble by the Brazilian government.

As previously reported by The Brazilian Report, Brazil has been a sought-after testing ground for developing Covid-19 vaccines due to its still rising rate of infection spread. It also means the country can position itself as one of the first to receive the much-coveted vaccine, as it currently has ongoing human trials for two of the three most advanced vaccine studies in the world. 

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Jul 06, 2020 06:45 PM

Latin America Covid-19 News Roundup: Jul. 6, 2020

🇦🇷 Argentina. Health Minister Gines González: Football in Argentina “will not return any time soon.” (Merco Press)

🇨🇴 Colombia. A quarter of the country’s total Covid-19 deaths were confirmed in recent weeks (Colombia Reports)

🇻🇪 Venezuela. The Nicolás Maduro government is to impose “radical quarantine” after a bump in coronavirus infections (The Brazilian Report — Covid-19 Live Blog)

🇩🇴 Dominican Republic. Dominicans elected their new president amid the pandemic. (The Brazilian Report)

🇧🇴 Bolivia. Health Minister Eidy Roca is the 7th government member to test positive for Covid-19 (Notamerica, in Spanish)

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Jul 06, 2020 03:40 PM

Brazil coronavirus mortality rate drops, but data is misleading

São Paulo reopened bars and restaurants today, while Rio de Janeiro saw its beaches and drinking holes packed over the weekend. To justify this move toward reopening, regional governments cite recent Health Ministry claims that the lethality rate of the disease is falling around the country. However, this data is highly misleading. While the number of deaths as a share of total cases is going down — 7 percent early in May to just over 4 percent now — there is no reason for celebration just yet.

Brazilian testing data is extremely limited and unreliable. Among the nations with most coronavirus cases, Brazil has posted one of the lowest testing rates per 1 million people. Only the most severe infections — which force patients to go to the hospital — are being tested. The data suggests that healthcare systems are now becoming more able to cope with diagnostic demand. In São Paulo and Manaus, field hospitals have even been shut down as intensive care unit occupancy rates fall.

But the quality of tests in Brazil is also in doubt. Just last week, federal prosecutors launched Operation False Negative, investigating alleged fraud in the purchase of rapid Covid-19 tests in several states — notably federal capital Brasília. Deals were allegedly overpriced and tests were of poor quality, say law enforcement. Due to the pandemic, the purchase of essential health materials was fast-tracked and didn’t need to observe the strict laws of public procurement usually enforced.

Cases and deaths will go up again, experts warn

Data from In Loco, a company that tracks GPS data on 60 million-plus cell phones, suggests that social isolation rates have dropped to pre-quarantine levels, with around 30 percent of people staying home. But research from think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas — in partnership with the Universities of São Paulo and Oxford — shows that eight state capitals analyzed didn’t meet World Health Organization criteria to reopen non-essential businesses.

Moreover, the panic we witnessed in March and April has now given way to people behaving as if they are invincible. In Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, social gatherings are widespread, driving infection rates up once more. An increase in death is expected to follow soon.

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Jul 06, 2020 01:18 PM

Bolsonaro lifts mandatory use of masks in prisons

President Jair Bolsonaro had decided to veto another two articles of the law making the use of masks mandatory in public spaces. This time, he lifted the obligation for mask use within prisons. Moreover, public institutions, commercial sites, and public entities will no longer be forced to display warnings raising awareness to the use of personal protective equipment.

This creates a rather strange situation, as inmates in many prison facilities around Brazil are producing masks they will probably never wear themselves.

Mr. Bolsonaro said states and municipalities have the autonomy to impose those measures if they see fit, in yet another example of the president’s laissez-faire approach to Covid-19. He has been the biggest opponent to social isolation and claims people should go about their business as usual.

Mask regulations for prisons: risks to inmates and guards

Brazilian prisons and jails are considered to be breeding grounds for Covid-19. Largely overcrowded and often with paltry living conditions, correctional facilities offer little to no possibility of social isolation. As The Brazilian Report wrote in April, Brazil has 750,000 inmates cramped in jails that have a combined capacity to house only 460,000 people — according to June 2019 data. 

Official figures have the Covid-19 mortality rate in prisons at least five times higher than among the outside population.

“The prison population is 30 times more likely to contract tuberculosis. They are people under the responsibility of the state. All deaths from coronavirus within prison institutions that could have been prevented and were not, are the responsibility of the authorities,” Camila Prado, a professor at the Law School of the University of Brasília, told Brasília correspondent Renato Alves.

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Jul 06, 2020 10:45 AM

Venezuela to impose “radical quarantine” after bump in coronavirus infections

Venezuela reported 419 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the country’s biggest daily rise in 112 days since the beginning of the pandemic. In response, the President Nicolás Maduro’s administration will impose a new “radical quarantine” starting today, one week after some regions of the country relaxed social isolation measures.

Venezuela has recorded 7,100 infections and 65 confirmed deaths — but authorities have faced accusations of data tampering.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez said dozens of new infections are “imported,” referring to Venezuelans who contracted the coronavirus elsewhere and then returned to the country. Mr. Rodríguez says Venezuela suffers under “pressure” from neighboring countries, where the spread is “out of control.”

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Jul 05, 2020 01:27 PM

Has the worst of the coronavirus crisis passed in Manaus?

Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon, was the first in Brazil to see its health network collapse amid the pandemic. Dr. Uildeia Galvão, who was one of the frontline workers in the Amazonian city, told website El Pais that she believes the city has overcome the worst of the pandemic. “Now is the time to take care of those that stayed at home,” she said. But while the city’s intensive care unit occupancy rate has dropped to 49 percent, its health woes are far from over.

As the burden placed on the health system has lessened, it is clear that the coronavirus has led to knock-on adverse health effects for those who require treatment for other illnesses. Dr. Galvão noted a marked increase in the number of young people requiring hospitalization after trying to commit suicide and patients recovering from Covid-19 returning to the hospital with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Brazilian Report has analyzed how the social and mental health fallout from the pandemic will linger on even if the disease has been defeated. 

Dr. Galvão also noted that many patients avoided seeking treatment for fear of contracting the coronavirus and that “many people with diabetes are progressing to chronic kidney failure and will have to go on dialysis.” However, according to the doctor, “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Data journalist Aline Gatto Boueri analyzed data from Civil Registry transparency platforms and found that in April, the number of people who died in Manaus was 443 percent higher than the average amount for the month over the last four years.

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Jul 05, 2020 11:26 AM

Brazilian league set to start on August 9, says FA head

Rogério Caboclo, head of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), announced today in an interview with newspaper O Globo that Brazilian football is set to resume activities in August. The second- and third-divisions will start on August 8, followed by the first division, on August 9. The Copa do Brasil tournament will begin on August 26. The timetable for Brazilian football will have to be readjusted until 2022 as a result, as it will be impossible to finish the season by December.

The logistics and complications involved in restarting football are immense — requiring the reopening of hotels, chartering new flights, and, of course, adopting a whole new sanitary regiment to minimize the risks for players and staff.

In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, has defended that sports leagues must operate under a “bubble format.” That is, having players insulated from the community and tested nearly every day. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year,” he said, talking about the NFL American football season.

While live sports have resumed in Europe, New Zealand (with fans), and Australia, Brazil has yet to get its infection curve under control. The country has the second-highest number of infections and deaths worldwide: 1.58 million and 64,365, respectively. As The Brazilian Report has covered, the Rio de Janeiro State Championship has already resumed despite the protests of two of its largest clubs — Botafogo and Fluminense. 

On June 18, Flamengo played Bangu in the iconic Maracanã stadium. The game ended with three goals — and two deaths in the coronavirus field hospital just outside the stadium.

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Jul 04, 2020 12:33 PM

Coronavirus-led closure wave begins in Brazil

Back on March 26, The Brazilian Report that, after hospitals, bankruptcy courts would be the next public administration sector to become overburdened. “The prospect of recession and widespread bankruptcy has led Brazil’s Justice system to fear a new problem on the horizon: a huge influx of administration pleas from business owners,” wrote reporter Brenno Grillo. 

This process has begun.

Brazil has started to experience a wave of factory closures. In many cases, companies were already facing dire straits before the coronavirus arrived in Brazil four months ago. Meanwhile, several foreign-owned companies launched restructuring processes planned well before the pandemic. 

The Brazilian economy was in deep trouble before the pandemic, as The Brazilian Report has covered — and the coronavirus crisis has only worsened existing structural problems. Think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas predicts that Brazil’s manufacturing sector will contract by 11.5 percent this year. In Q2 2020, the sector will shrink by 21 percent — the worst results in 40 years. Manufacturing firms have also been shedding jobs at an alarming rate. Vacancies in the sector jumped from 32,000 in March to 196,000 at the end of April.

After consulting with unions, companies, and city halls, journalist Thais Carrança reports that six factories have closed since April: Japanese firm Mitutoyo, auto part manufacturer Kostal, as well as footwear producers Paquetá, Piccadilly, Ramarim, and RR Shoes/Via Uno. This is only the first wave of factory closures, and more can be expected over the coming months.

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Jul 03, 2020 04:35 PM

Brasília flights should go up by 640 percent in July

Juscelino Kubitschek International Airport in Brasília is preparing to return to normal operations — or as close to normal as is possible during a pandemic. Airport administrator Inframerica predicts a 640-percent growth in flights over the next month when compared to June — which recorded the single lowest number of flights in 25 years.

International routes, however, remain closed.

The airport will offer flights to 35 destinations — 12 more than it is currently operating — making for an average of 100 daily takeoffs and landings. While this is still far from the 380 daily flights before the pandemic, it still makes it one of the busiest airports in Brazil. “Brasília is an important hub and is gradually recovering its activities. We are adopting several sanitary measures, such as taking people’s temperatures and making hand sanitizer available at 30 spots in the terminal,” said Roberto Luiz, Inframerica’s Head of Business.

Regional carrier VoePass, which suspended activities in Brasília, will now resume flights to five cities — three routes will be operated in partnership with Gol, the country’s biggest private airline.

Here are the cities that will have direct flights to Brasília from July onward:

  • South: Curitiba, Porto Alegre, and Florianópolis;
  • Southeast: São Paulo, Guarulhos, Campinas, Rio de Janeiro (both Santos Dumont and Galeão), Belo Horizonte, Vitória, Ribeirão Preto, São José do Rio Preto, and Uberlândia;
  • Northeast: Fortaleza, Salvador, Recife, São Luiz, Teresina, Barreiras, João Pessoa, Maceió, and Natal;
  • Center-West: Cuiabá, Goiânia, and Campo Grande;
  • North: Manaus, Santarém, Belém, Rio Branco, Macapá, Marabá, Porto-Velho, Boa Vista, Palmas, and Araguaína.
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Jul 03, 2020 04:19 PM

4 percent of Brazilians already have Covid-19 antibodies, says study

According to new research by the Health Ministry in partnership with the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), around 4 percent of Brazilians have already developed Covid-19 antibodies — suggesting that a much higher percentage of Brazilians have been infected by the coronavirus than official numbers suggest.

The research was conducted between May 14 and June 24, using three rounds of rapid Covid-19 tests that detect the presence of antibodies in an individual’s bloodstream. Over 89,000 people were tested in 133 cities across all 27 Brazilian states.

The latest round of testing showed that 3.8 percent of volunteers had already developed antibodies. If this holds true for national figures, it could mean that roughly 8 million Brazilians have contracted the virus at some point — significantly larger than the nearly 1.5 million Brazilians that have tested positive so far, according to the Health Ministry.

The study also indicated that 91 percent of participants developed some sort of symptom after being infected. The rapid tests used were provided by Chinese brand Wondfo with a sensibility rate of 85 percent, meaning that there is a 15 percent risk of a “false negative” result.

Underreporting issues

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brazil’s response has been handicapped by chronic underreporting issues. Part of the problem has been the low number of PCR and rapid tests available to the population, often limiting testing only to those patients presenting the most severe symptoms.

Yet, as previously covered by The Brazilian Report, part of the issue stems from the federal government itself, including recent attempts by the Health Ministry to cover up Covid-19 data in a bid to downplay the gravity of the pandemic in Brazil. The lack of transparency brings to mind past cover-ups under the military dictatorship in the 1970s — a grim precedent for the government’s data reliability regarding the pandemic moving forward.

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Jul 03, 2020 01:58 PM

Brazil’s Covid-19 data repository ready to go

Covid-19 Data Sharing/BR, the first Brazilian public database with clinical information from coronavirus patients, has moved beyond its beta phase and is now in full operation, as announced by Fapesp, one of the research foundations responsible for the project.

The initiative was launched in June to provide scientists with free access to demographic and clinical information from patients hospitalized at São Paulo’s leading hospitals Sírio Libanês and Albert Einstein, including lab results from all over the country processed by Fleury Group. It now hosts 5 million lab results from 177,000 patients, which may grow as the project intends to include imaging results in its second phase. 

As of June, the database was opened to feedback from the scientific community, which will be analyzed and implemented when possible, says Fapesp. Besides Brazilians scientists, teams from countries such as the U.S., Portugal, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Argentina, Romania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, France, Finland, and Thailand have accessed the material.

While similar data-sharing initiatives are popping up around the world, the fact that Covid-19 Data Sharing/BR provides real-life patient data may prove helpful for vaccine and treatment studies around the world. “Much of the data inserted on international platforms are from clinical trials, not clinical and lab tests as [is the case with] Covid-19 Data Sharing/BR,” said Unicamp’s Computing Institute professor Claudia Medeiros, who is involved at the project.

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Jul 03, 2020 12:16 PM

Cars use ‘drive-thru’ inside São Paulo shopping mall

In most cases, drive-thru services consist of people using their cars to order and pick up their items outside a restaurant or store. But not at the Shopping Botucatu mall, in the interior of São Paulo state. To avoid breaking quarantine, the mall is encouraging customers to literally drive their cars through the mall to continue shopping. 

The city of Botucatu is only allowing essential services to open, being in phase one of the “São Paulo Plan,” created by Governor João Doria’s Contingency Center to fight the pandemic in the state. As of today, São Paulo has recorded 15,321 deaths and 302,179 cases. 

According to State Health Secretary José Henrique Germann, the state will record between 18,000 and 23,000 deaths from Covid-19 by July 15, and at least 335,000 to 470,000 confirmed cases.

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