Authorities disagree on possible coronavirus case in Brazil

. Jan 23, 2020
Authorities disagree on possible coronavirus case in Brazil Person wearing protective mask against transmissible infectious diseases. Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock

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Good morning! We’re covering today the suspected coronavirus infection in Brazil. President Bolsonaro’s improving popularity numbers. And more. (This newsletter is for premium subscribers only. Become one now!)

Has China’s coronavirus reached Brazil?

Health authorities

in the state of Minas Gerais are investigating a suspected coronavirus case in the state capital of Belo Horizonte. The patient is a 35-year-old woman who was recently in Shanghai. But the Health Ministry has said the case <a href="">does not fit</a> the current World Health Organization (WHO) criteria—according to which active transmission is only happening in Wuhan, a city in Central China.</p> <p><strong>What is the coronavirus? </strong>It comes from the same family as the <a href="">SARS virus</a> and has caused pneumonia-like symptoms in infected patients. Back in 2002–2003, a SARS epidemic (which also affected China) infected over 8,000 people—killing nearly 800 of them.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1272510"></div><script src=""></script> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The number of infections and deaths has increased rapidly since the coronavirus emerged in December—with over 500 confirmed cases and 17 deaths. Recent data all but confirms that the coronavirus can spread from person to person.</p> <p><strong>Crossed wires.</strong> By giving conflicting reports on the issue, state and federal authorities fuel people&#8217;s fears—and diminish their trust in the government&#8217;s ability to tackle the issue, should an outbreak occur.</p> <p><strong>Meanwhile … </strong>Chinese authorities have put Wuhan—a city of 11 million people—on a public transport lockdown. The WHO met yesterday to discuss the issue, stopping short of declaring it a public health emergency of international concern. Another meeting will be held today.</p> <p><strong>Transparency.</strong> As in any authoritarian state, China can be opaque when it comes to the disclosure of alarming data. Researchers at Northeastern University and Imperial College London believe the real number of infections could be five to ten times higher than what has been reported.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Bolsonaro&#8217;s popularity numbers go up</h2> <p>A new opinion poll shows a rare bump in the approval rating of President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s government: from 29 percent in August to 34 percent now. The rate of voters who consider his administration as &#8220;bad&#8221; or &#8220;terrible&#8221; has fallen substantially—from 39 to 31 percent. Still, Mr. Bolsonaro remains Brazil&#8217;s worst-rated president after his first year in office, which may also be a result of the country&#8217;s overall polarization.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> This is an administration with no shortage of controversy. Just last week, Mr. Bolsonaro was forced to fire his culture secretary, who had published a video paraphrasing Nazi minister Joseph Goebbels. But the poll—commissioned by the National Transport Confederation—suggests that the president&#8217;s popularity depends almost entirely on Brazil&#8217;s economic outlook. His approval ratings went up as more people (58 percent) believe 2020 will be a better year for the Brazilian economy than 2019.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1272809"></div><script src=""></script> <p><strong>Intriguing.</strong> Voters who considered that Brazil improved in 2019 mentioned the economy, public security, and the fight against corruption as the main positive areas. Today, Transparency International publishes its latest Corruption Perception Index—with Brazil repeating its all-time lowest score, ranked 106th out of 180 countries. In our opinion, this has more to do with the sheer popularity of Justice Minister Sergio Moro—still seen by a big chunk of the electorate as the anti-corruption fighter who led Operation Car Wash—than concrete measures from the administration. Good for the government; bad for Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p><strong>2022.</strong> The poll also asked voters who would they choose if the 2022 elections were held today. While polls this early have little importance in predicting elections, they show how the left has failed to produce an alternative to Lula: despite being ineligible for office, he polls 6 times better than any other opposition candidate.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <p><strong>India.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro flies to India this morning, where he will participate in celebrations for the South Asian country&#8217;s Republic Day. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has highlighted how important it is for Brazil to create stronger ties with India—which is set to become the world&#8217;s most populous country by 2030. &#8220;Our trade relations are of just USD 7 billion. There&#8217;s clearly room for improvement,&#8221; said Reinaldo Salgado, the ministry&#8217;s Secretary for Bilateral Negotiations with Asia/Pacific and Russia.</p> <p><strong>Justice.</strong> Supreme Court Luiz Fux has suspended the creation of the so-called &#8220;guarantees judge,&#8221; which would work alongside federal magistrates and oversee the investigation phase of criminal cases. This new type of judge was included by Congress in Justice Minister Sergio Moro&#8217;s &#8220;anti-crime bill,&#8221; much to his disgust. The final say on the matter will be up to the entire 11-member Supreme Court—which is in recess until next month.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Investments. </strong>The Brazilian delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is set to meet today with 20 big investors and present them with the government&#8217;s program of privatizations and investments. A total of 115 projects—worth a combined total of BRL 320 billion—will be displayed, with the auction of 5G frequencies being the crown jewel.</p> <p><strong>Trade.</strong> Economy Minister Paulo Guedes met with his British counterpart, Sajid Javid, to discuss a possible trade deal between the UK and Brazil. &#8220;We want it and they want it,&#8221; said Mr. Guedes. After Brexit, the UK will be excluded from the <a href="">Mercosur-EU trade deal</a>, signed last year. Once again, Mr. Guedes used the opportunity to make a dig at Argentina, almost suggesting—but without finishing his sentence—that Brazil could leave Mercosur were Buenos Aires not to be on board. Per Mercosur rules, member countries cannot sign such deals individually.</p> <p><strong>Petrobras. </strong>Brazil’s Administrative Council of Tax Appeals (Carf) has upheld a fine of BRL 8.9 billion against Petrobras. The state-run oil giant was found guilty of tweaking contracts with foreign groups in order to avoid social security taxes—the tribunal found that the company segmented its services into multiple contracts, making the bulk of payments abroad. Petrobras will reportedly battle the fine in courts.</p> <p><strong>Budget.</strong> The <a href="">2020 budget</a> has been sanctioned this week—but the government will already be forced to make further cuts. The economic team has opted for being conservative and freeze BRL 20 billion that would largely come from the privatization of Eletrobras, Brazil&#8217;s state-run energy company. But this privatization process promises to be a political minefield and is likely to drag on throughout the year.</p> <p><strong>Regulation.</strong> Brazil’s sanitary surveillance agency Anvisa has simplified the process to import cannabis-based medical products. Now, patients will be able to request their medicines by submitting a simple prescription through a <a href="">government-run website</a>. Previously, they also had to turn in a medical report, a term of consent, and an extensive form. The move should further stimulate <a href="">investments in the cannabis market</a>—which have been silently creeping up in recent months.

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