Health Minister steps up to the plate as coronavirus arrives

. Feb 28, 2020
Brazil's Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta Brazil's Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta. Photo: Jose Cruz/ABr

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We’re covering how the Health Ministry is handling the arrival of the coronavirus in the country. The evolution of Brazil’s gross national debt. And the country’s dwindling support for democratic principles.

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Brazil’s Health Minister a positive exception in the Bolsonaro cabinet

In an administration filled with people that fuel conspiracy theories on social media

—or even <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/01/17/brazilian-culture-secretary-roberto-alvim-goebbels-nazi/">dress up as Hitler&#8217;s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels</a>—orthopedic physician and Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has set himself apart as a positive presence in the Bolsonaro cabinet. His office has tried to stay ahead of the coronavirus outbreak, proposing a bill giving the government <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/02/07/brazil-prevent-coronavirus-entering-country/">legal support to carry out emergency measures</a>—even before the country registered its first <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2020/02/26/brazil-first-coronavirus-infection-confirmed-sao-paulo-petrobras-2020-markets/">confirmed Covid-19 infection</a> in São Paulo.</p> <p>Mr. Mandetta has relied on scientific data to propose policies for dealing with the outbreak—calling out <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/08/05/anti-vax-movement-brazil-measles-comeback/">anti-vaxxers</a> in the process—and has headed an <a href="https://www.saude.gov.br/fakenews">effort to debunk misinformation</a> about the virus. While that is the very least one should expect from a Health Minister, it is worth recalling that this administration has been notable for its lack of transparency with official data and proneness to relaying false information.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The spread of fake news regarding the coronavirus has fed fears and undermined people&#8217;s trust in governments&#8217; ability to deal with health crises.</p> <p><strong>Actions. </strong>Yesterday, the Health Minister announced the government will bring forward the national flu vaccination campaign. While the influenza shot does not protect against Covid-19, the government expects it to assist health professionals to diagnose infected patients by elimination.</p> <p>Mr. Mandetta also asked those with symptoms of respiratory diseases to stay at home, instead of rushing to the hospital and increasing the risks of spreading viruses and overburdening the public health system.</p> <p><strong>By the numbers.</strong> Brazil officially has 132 suspected coronavirus infections—but the numbers could soon surpass 300, as the Health Ministry is still processing reports from some states. According to government officials, the numbers should only increase within the next few weeks.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-map" data-src="visualisation/1466499"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s gross national debt to reach 78 percent of GDP</h2> <p>A report by the National Treasury projects the Brazilian gross national debt to hit 78 percent of GDP by year-end, up from 76 percent in 2019. In this scenario, the debt would grow until 2023—reaching 79.4 percent of GDP—after which it would begin a downward trajectory, going back to 72 percent by 2029.</p> <p><strong>About-turn. </strong>Last year, the gross national debt dropped by 0.7 percentage points of the GDP, the first decrease since 2013, fueled by the sale of some international reserves and payments of the National Development Bank (BNDES) of loans made by the government.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> According to the report, Brazil&#8217;s situation remains delicate and the country needs to continue its commitment to austerity policies to prevent the national debt from ballooning.</p> <p><strong>Grounded.</strong> Treasury Secretary Mansueto Almeida said the government&#8217;s projections are much more conservative than those proposed by the markets and don&#8217;t include further BDNES payments before schedule.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilians&#8217; commitment to democratic principles not always strong</h2> <p>A <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/02/27/democratic-rights-popular-globally-but-commitment-to-them-not-always-strong/">Pew Research Center survey</a> carried out in 34 countries shows that Brazilians are less dissatisfied with how democracy works—but their commitment to democratic principles such as freedom of the press and having legitimate opposition parties has fallen. According to Pew&#8217;s director of global attitudes research Richard Wike, people tend to feel better about democracy immediately after national elections. Still, 67 percent of voters think elected officials don&#8217;t care about ordinary citizens.</p> <p><strong>Key findings.</strong> Only 36 percent of Brazilians believe that a free opposition is &#8220;very important&#8221; for a country—and only 60 percent defend total freedom of the press, down from 71 percent in 2015.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1466972"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Over the past two decades, attacks against journalists and media outlets have intensified and reached new levels under the Jair Bolsonaro presidency. In 2020 alone, he has attacked the reputations of two female reporters after they published stories that displeased him.</p> <p><strong>Rising tide.</strong> The lack of appreciation for democratic principles in Brazil has to do with (1) how young democracy is in Brazil, and (2) how political elites have failed to improve the lives of Brazilians. That backslide has been detected over the past few years.</p> <p>In 2017, the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety (FBSP) measured <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2017/10/18/brazil-rising-authoritarianism/">how prone Brazilians are to authoritarian beliefs</a>. The research used Theodor W. Adorno’s 1947 F-scale, a test to measure authoritarian personality. On a scale varying from 1 to 10, Brazilians scored 8.1—with younger citizens scoring higher than middle-aged people.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Environment.</strong> The Brazilian Navy has created a crisis management committee to monitor the possible sinking of the MV Stellar Banner ship—which was carrying an undisclosed amount of iron ore to China and is now adrift 100 kilometers off the coast of the state of Maranhão. Aerial images show black stains around the vessel indicating a fuel spill—the Banner carries around four million liters of diesel. Meanwhile, mining company Vale, which chartered the ship, requested Oil Spill Recovery Vessels to Petrobras. Vale could now be involved in its <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2018/11/05/mariana-disaster-2015-tragedy/">third massive environmental disaster</a> in less than five years.</li><li><strong>Coronavirus.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro said he could cancel an official diplomatic visit to Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak. The president planned on visiting the European country in March—alongside <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/02/05/industry-numbers-spark-early-2020-pessimism-brazil-orban-5g/">Hungary and Poland</a>. With 655 confirmed infections, Italy only has fewer Covid-19 cases than China and South Korea</li><li><strong>Petrobras.</strong> Brazil&#8217;s state-controlled oil and gas company has given up on making an initial public offering to sell its 51-percent stake in Gaspetro—a subsidiary that partially owns all state-level natural gas distributors in the country. Petrobras has instead initiated a traditional divestment process with a teaser presenting the asset to potential suitors. The company hopes to raise at least USD 600 million with the deal—including premiums for controller status.</li><li><strong>Argentina.</strong> Despite getting elected on an &#8220;anti-IMF&#8221; rhetoric, the Alberto Fernández administration in Argentina has increased conversations with the International Monetary Fund as of late. The fund publicly backed <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/02/05/argentina-plan-climb-out-debt-sinkhole-imf/">restructuring the country&#8217;s &#8220;unsustainable&#8221; debts</a>, with borrowing approaching 90 percent of the country&#8217;s GDP. The IMF said that a “meaningful contribution” by private creditors will be needed for that situation to improve. Talks between the fund and Argentina&#8217;s officials will continue next week.</li><li><strong>2020 election.</strong> As we presented in <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/02/27/bolsonaro-impeachment-offense-markets-coronavirus-vale/">yesterday&#8217;s Daily Briefing</a>, Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s Alliance for Brazil party was having trouble validating voters&#8217; signatures to support its creation—one of the last necessary steps to become a fully-fledged political party. Hours later, party officials threw in the towel on the 2020 municipal elections, admitting there is not enough time for them to get the nearly 500,000 notarized signatures required by electoral courts before April 4—the deadline for parties that want to be on the ticket.

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