Poorer neighborhoods are coronavirus breeding grounds

. Apr 03, 2020
A social inequality icon in São Paulo: the Paraisópolis favela next to luxury buildings. Photo: Caio Pederneiras/Shutterstock A social inequality icon in São Paulo: the Paraisópolis favela next to luxury buildings. Photo: Caio Pederneiras/Shutterstock

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We’re covering today the vulnerability of poorer communities facing the coronavirus crisis. How freezing prices could create supply shortages. And Brazilians’ behaviors during quarantine.

The coronavirus’ lethality is boosted by economic inequality

Covid-19 reached Brazil through the country’s influential jet-set, which can afford international trips

. &#8220;In Brazil, over 300 people started the epidemic, mostly coming from Italy. That led to a quick spread of the virus,&#8221; said Dr. Ester Sabino, a researcher at the University of São Paulo&#8217;s Institute of Tropical Medicine. But it will be in big cities&#8217; peripheral neighborhoods that the virus will spread like wildfire. Census data shows that in poorer areas, the number of households where 2-plus people share the same room makes social distancing impossible.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Brazil has yet to reach a peak in its coronavirus&#8217; infection curve, and lethality will likely be much higher among peripheral populations — who have limited access to healthcare, basic sanitation, <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/02/food-shortages-already-a-reality-in-brazils-favelas/">proper nutrition</a>, placing them among risk groups.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="810" height="450" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/5.png" alt="The coronavirus' lethality is boosted by economic inequality" class="wp-image-34871" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/5.png 810w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/5-300x167.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/5-768x427.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/5-610x339.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 810px) 100vw, 810px" /><figcaption>Source: <a href="https://nucleo.jor.br/">Nucleo Jornalismo</a></figcaption></figure> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="810" height="450" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/4-1.png" alt="" class="wp-image-34872" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/4-1.png 810w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/4-1-300x167.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/4-1-768x427.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/4-1-610x339.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 810px) 100vw, 810px" /><figcaption>Source: <a href="https://nucleo.jor.br/">Nucleo Jornalismo</a></figcaption></figure> <p><strong>A new vector.</strong> Two studies published in medical journal Lancet showed that the feces of Covid-19 patients carried the virus, even <em>after</em> it was no longer present in their lungs and respiratory system. While the infection risk through the feces is limited, it does exist.</p> <ul><li>A <a href="http://etes-sustentaveis.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID-19-e-o-Saneamento-no-Brasil.pdf">paper</a> published by INCT-ETEs Sustentáveis (an institute that does research on public sanitation) warned that only 46 percent of Brazil&#8217;s sewage is treated. &#8220;In the months of the duration of the pandemic, we might be throwing significant amounts of viral loads into our rivers.&#8221; Only half of the Brazilian population has access to a proper sewage system, meaning the rest are particularly vulnerable to infections.</li><li>INCT-ETEs Sustentáveis says that monitoring sewage for the presence of the coronavirus might be an effective way to detect Covid-19, especially among asymptomatic patients.</li></ul> <iframe title="Down the drain" aria-label="Brazil municipalities choropleth map" id="datawrapper-chart-IlhDO" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IlhDO/2/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important; border: none;" height="535"></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><strong>The case in Ecuador.</strong> The Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil offers a snapshot of how the lack of proper living conditions can make the outbreak deadlier. The country has almost half of Brazil&#8217;s reported deaths —&nbsp;but a population 13 times smaller.</p> <ul><li>“Temperatures hit almost 35 degrees Celsius during the day. Imagine that most people are poor, and have to be locked inside for 15 hours a day in wooden shacks, near smelly rivers, with families of six people or more. They just can’t stand not going out and taking a walk. The fact that most people don’t have internet or air conditioning machines also works against the ‘Stay Home’ strategy,” Ecuadorian professor Andrés Vladimir Jácome <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/04/01/in-ecuador-covid-19-is-leaving-a-literal-trail-of-bodies/">told reporter Lucas Berti</a>.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Antitrust watchdog warns about the risks of freezing prices</h2> <p>Two bills in Congress discuss a possible policy to freeze the prices of medicines and essential goods during the Covid-19 pandemic. Reports show that the cost of face masks, hand sanitizer bottles, among other items, have skyrocketed. The price of a bag of beans, for instance, almost doubled in the space of three weeks. However, Brazil&#8217;s antitrust watchdog Cade says the move to keep prices stationary could have the opposite effect of the one intended.</p> <ul><li>&#8220;Freezing prices could discourage production, distribution, and sale of goods — if companies have increased costs with no possibility of passing them on to consumers,&#8221; says a report. &#8220;We could witness a shortage of medicine and essential items, which would be an even worse economic scenario than allowing price fluctuation.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Brazilians face major losses to their purchasing power and are focusing their spending on essential items. Letting these jump exponentially could deepen families&#8217; dire financial straits.</p> <p><strong>Medicines.</strong> On March 31, President Bolsonaro announced on Twitter that medicine prices shall remain stable for 60 days, after a deal with pharmaceutical companies —&nbsp;however, it remains unclear if any legally-binding document has been signed by industries.&nbsp;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s mobility changes</h2> <p>Google released &#8220;<a href="https://www.gstatic.com/covid19/mobility/2020-03-29_BR_Mobility_Report_en.pdf">Mobility Reports</a>&#8221; for several countries this morning to &#8220;help public health officials understand responses to social distancing guidance related to Covid-19.&#8221; Using GPS data from cell phones, the tech giant monitored personal travel this week, comparing to the five-week period between January 3 and February 6. &#8220;These reports show how visits and length of stay at different places change compared to a baseline.&#8221;</p> <p><strong>By the numbers.</strong> The data shows that quarantines have been effective in Brazilian states:</p> <ul><li>Retail &amp; recreation: -71 percent of circulation;</li><li>Grocery &amp; pharmacy: -35 percent;</li><li>Parks: -70 percent;</li><li>Transit stations: -62 percent;</li><li>Workplaces: -34 percent;</li><li>Residential: +17 percent.</li></ul> <p><strong>Privacy issues.</strong> Google says &#8220;no personally identifiable information, such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement, is made available at any point.&#8221;</p> <p><strong>Trend.</strong> The city of Recife is using cell phones to detect and crack down on public gatherings —&nbsp;issuing warnings when heat maps show agglomerations. Municipalities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are considering similar policies.</p> <p><strong>Warning.</strong> These initiatives are reminiscent of policies used by the Chinese government to contain the spread —&nbsp;and raise fears of enhancing state surveillance on the population. “Increasing surveillance to combat the pandemic now could permanently open the door to more invasive future models. It is a lesson that the U.S. learned after their war on terror,” Bernardo Wahl, a professor of international relations and a specialist in digital security, <a href="https://brazilian.report/tech/2020/04/02/could-covid-19-cause-a-rise-in-government-surveillance-in-brazil/">told reporter Brenno Grillo</a>.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Alternative budget.</strong> The House is set to vote today on the creation of a &#8220;parallel budget&#8221; to deal with the coronavirus crisis — which Speaker Rodrigo Maia has referred to as a &#8220;war budget.&#8221; The idea is to allow the government to drastically increase public spending on measures to counter the crisis — both economically and from the public health perspective — while avoiding such changes being made permanent by the government. As a constitutional amendment, this &#8220;war budget&#8221; needs 60-percent support and will go through two rounds of voting in both congressional chambers.</li><li><strong>Pre-Carnival.</strong> The first official Covid-19 case in Brazil had been <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2020/02/26/brazil-first-coronavirus-infection-confirmed-sao-paulo-petrobras-2020-markets/">registered on February 25</a>, but the Health Ministry now says a retroactive investigation shows the coronavirus reached the country much sooner. Patient zero was apparently a 75-year-old woman from Minas Gerais who died on January 23. According to notary offices&#8217; records, <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/02/notaries-report-more-covid-19-deaths-than-hospitals/">deaths from pneumonia and respiratory failure</a> grew by 160 percent in Minas Gerais this year. State authorities continue to investigate previously unknown cases.</li><li><strong>Emergency. </strong>President Jair Bolsonaro signed off on the bill creating an <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/27/brazil-to-pay-emergency-salary-to-informal-workers/">emergency salary of BRL 600</a> (USD 115) for three months to informal workers, and BRL 1,200 for single mothers. There is as of yet no official timetable for the money to actually reach the beneficiaries, but Mr. Bolsonaro promised payments will start next week. Exactly <em>how</em> the government will distribute the money is a stumbling block, as millions of the intended beneficiaries <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2018/01/17/fintech-bank-concentration/">do not have bank accounts</a>.</li><li><strong>Churches.</strong> A federal court in Brasília told President Jair Bolsonaro to remove churches and temples from the list of &#8220;essential activities&#8221; that must remain open during quarantine. The decision dates from March 31, and gave the government 24 hours to make the change in the rules — but so far, nothing has been done. The president labeled churches &#8220;essential&#8221; in a move to cater to <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/17/brazil-coronavirus-deniers-positions-power/">Evangelical leaders who support his administration</a> — one of whom dismissed the coronavirus as &#8220;harmless&#8221; and said the fear surrounding the pandemic is nothing more than “a tactic of Satan.”</li><li><strong>Dirty laundry.</strong> During an interview with radio station Jovem Pan, President Jair Bolsonaro threw his Health Minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, under the bus. He said Mr. Mandetta &#8220;lacks humility,&#8221; and suggested that the coronavirus crisis is the only thing stopping him for firing the minister. &#8220;I don&#8217;t plan to fire him in the middle of the war, but at some point he went too far. Mr. Mandetta is too eager to make his will prevail. Maybe he&#8217;s right, but he lacks some humility to lead Brazil at this moment.&#8221; Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reports that Mr. Mandetta told allies he wants to leave the cabinet — but won&#8217;t quit amid a sanitary crisis.</li><li><strong>Allies?</strong> American essayist Charles Dudley Warner once said &#8220;politics makes strange bedfellows.&#8221; Such was the case when São Paulo Governor João Doria and former President Lula exchanged pleasantries on Twitter — saying that ideological differences must take a backseat at the moment. While the move shows a concrete desire to unite more moderate forces both to the right and left against Jair Bolsonaro, conflicting future interests have been in the way of a true alliance so far.

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