Jair Bolsonaro couldn’t care less about Covid-19

. Apr 29, 2020
Brazilian Covid-19 deaths surpass China. Bolsonaro says so what Woman spits at Bolsonaro poster. Photo: Pixabay

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As bodies continue piling up, Jair Bolsonaro shrugs at the number of Covid-19 deaths. The decreasing expectations for Brazil’s agribusiness sector. And a racist tweet by a cabinet member becomes a criminal investigation.

Brazilian Covid-19 deaths surpass China’s. Bolsonaro says “so what?”

After reporting a further 474 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday,

Brazil reached 5,017 total casualties related to the pandemic, surpassing China&#8217;s official death toll. However, there is reason to doubt both of these figures: authoritarian regimes such as China&#8217;s tend to be opaque when it comes to alarming data, while Brazil&#8217;s actual Covid-19 death count is likely to be much greater than official numbers, due to a lack of testing.</p> <p><strong>Dismissive. </strong>Health Minister Nelson Teich chose not to comment on the numbers. Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro did, but in the least considerate way possible: &#8220;So what? I&#8217;m sorry. What do you want me to do?&#8221; he said on Tuesday evening, in front of the presidential palace. After realizing his words were being broadcast live, Mr. Bolsonaro changed his tone and expressed solidarity with the families of the Covid-19 victims.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> While several countries have been able to flatten the curve of Covid-19 deaths, Brazil sees its number of casualties continuing to rise. May and June are predicted to be the worst 60-day stretch of the pandemic in Brazil. Healthcare systems in several states are already facing collapse, even before the peak hits.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>In Rio de Janeiro, Governor Wilson Witzel said the state&#8217;s hospitals are at breaking point.</li><li>In São Paulo, the number of total deaths tripled in a little over two weeks —&nbsp;and São Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas is negotiating ways to integrate the public and private healthcare networks in the city.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2149570" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2149570/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p><strong>Testing.</strong> In a push to increase testing and give policymakers a better grasp of the reality of the outbreak in Brazil, the Health Ministry granted pharmacies permission to administer rapid Covid-19 tests on their premises. Experts, however, believe these tests are unreliable.</p> <p><strong>Quarantines.</strong> Public support for social isolation is down in Brazil, according to pollster Datafolha. Those in favor of stay-at-home measures fell from 60 percent of the population at the beginning of April to just 52 percent this week. Meanwhile, those in favor of sending &#8220;not-at-risk&#8221; people back to work jumped from 37 to 46 percent.</p> <p><strong>Worst-case scenario.</strong> The state of Amazonas is in the middle of a perfect storm. In the capital of Manaus, there have been 260 deaths for every 1 million people, which is the second-highest rate in the country. Ambulances are forced to queue outside hospitals, waiting for critical patients to die in order to free up space for new admittances.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Meanwhile, the State Congress is taking advantage of the &#8220;distraction&#8221; to pass a bill — which is riddled with legal errors — ending the state monopoly over the gas sector, and to threaten Governor Wilson Lima with an impeachment process.</li></ul> <p><strong>Path of the virus.</strong> First restricted to big urban centers, the coronavirus is spreading around the country: one-third of all registered cases are now found outside of state capitals, as well as 40 percent of deaths. Still, many mayors and governors insist on reopening their local economies — a reckless move given the limited Covid-19 data in Brazil.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Red flags for Brazilian agribusiness</h2> <p>With a drop in demand and commodity prices in freefall, analysts expect the Brazilian agribusiness sector to post low growth rates this year. The median forecast for the sector in 2020 is growth of only 2.5 percent, according to the Central Bank&#8217;s Focus Report. While that would be enough to make agribusiness the best-performing sector of an otherwise recessive economy, expectations are worsening. In mid-January, 2020 growth was tipped to be 3 percent.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2155454" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2155454/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The commodity sector is usually a safe bet for Brazil during an economic crisis. This time around, however, basic products have also been hit hard by the downturn. The CRB Commodity Index has fallen to its lowest levels since 2001.</p> <ul><li>This trend is to be expected: the Covid-19 pandemic has lowered consumption, which in turn leads to a slump in prices.</li></ul> <p><strong>The biggest losers. </strong>Besides oil, the worst-affected commodities in 2020 are cotton, sugar, and ethanol. Soybeans and corn — essential products for the food industry — have suffered significantly less. Not to mention the fact that prices in Brazilian Reais have actually increased, due to the crash of the local currency earlier in the year.</p> <p><strong>Normality.</strong> The worst may be yet to come. &#8220;It is important to remember that commodities are spot assets, not anticipatory assets, and must clear current supply and demand, which still remain extremely out of balance in all markets,&#8221; writes Jeff Currie, global head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs, in a report to clients.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Supreme Court justice makes another dig at Bolsonaro</h2> <p>Celso de Mello, the longest-serving justice of the Supreme Court, issued another ruling that will displease President Jair Bolsonaro. After <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/28/jair-bolsonaro-placed-under-formal-investigation/">greenlighting an investigation</a> into the head of state, Justice Mello has opened a criminal case against Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, one of the president&#8217;s staunchest allies. Mr. Weintraub is accused of racism, after posting an offensive tweet targeting Chinese people.</p> <ul><li>The justice also made sure to order Mr. Weintraub to be treated as a common suspect, without the possibility of choosing the date and venue of his testimony — a courtesy usually enjoyed by high authorities.</li><li>The case is sealed, but Justice Mello decided to make it open to the public.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> While most political actors limit themselves to outraged statements about the illegalities committed by government members, Justice Mello is taking action. Racism is a crime in Brazil — and one that doesn&#8217;t allow for bail.</p> <p><strong>Context. </strong>Following the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/us/politics/bolsonaro-trump.html">cues of U.S. President Donald Trump</a>, the Bolsonaro administration began referring to the coronavirus as &#8220;the Chinese virus.&#8221; On April 4, Mr. Weintraub suggested the Covid-19 pandemic is a Beijing conspiracy to become the world&#8217;s most powerful country. He did so by mocking Asian accents, swapping all &#8216;R&#8217;s for &#8216;L&#8217;s.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Galileo? </strong>Three federal prosecutors — two of which are open supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro — have opened an investigation into 28 researchers who conducted a study on the use of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. They <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/13/brazilian-researchers-link-high-doses-chloroquine-deaths/">concluded</a> that the medicine &#8220;should not be recommended for Covid-19 treatment because of its potential safety hazards.&#8221; Mr. Bolsonaro has hailed hydroxychloroquine as a &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/04/09/why-is-bolsonaro-so-keen-on-chloroquine-treat-covid-19/">potential cure</a>&#8221; for the disease. &#8220;I&#8217;m feeling a bit like Galileo Galilei,&#8221; lead physician Marcus Lacerda told <em>Piauí </em>magazine.</li><li><strong>Mining.</strong> Vale, one of the world&#8217;s largest iron ore producers, reported profits of BRL 984 million (USD 179 million) in Q1 2020. The company says output is likely to fall in subsequent quarters, as a result of the pandemic. Vale has been among the most resilient of Brazilian stocks, with its Covid-19 devaluation limited to 18 percent — far below the 35-percent crash of Ibovespa, the benchmark index of São Paulo&#8217;s stock exchange.</li><li><strong>Meat. </strong>Brazil&#8217;s pork exports rose 33 percent in Q1 2020, with Covid-19 and swine fever causing negative impacts on the sector in Asia since last year. China&#8217;s pork production fell 29 percent over the same period. Local producers benefit from the crash of the Brazilian Real, giving their output a more competitive price on the global market. However, costs have gone up and domestic meat consumption is down. In <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/28/jair-bolsonaro-placed-under-formal-investigation/">yesterday&#8217;s Daily Briefing</a>, we exposed concerns about the spread of Covid-19 within slaughterhouses.</li><li><strong>Violence.</strong> Brazil recorded an 8-percent increase in the number of violent deaths over the first two months of 2020. According to <em>G1&#8217;s</em> <a href="https://g1.globo.com/monitor-da-violencia/noticia/2020/04/29/apos-ano-de-queda-recorde-no-de-assassinatos-sobe-8percent-no-brasil-nos-dois-primeiros-meses-de-2020.ghtml">Violence Monitor</a>, there were 7,743 homicides in January and February, compared to 7,195 in the same period last year. The numbers show a reversal of 2019&#8217;s downward trend, when total murders were down 19 percent. While it remains too early to pinpoint causes, newly-appointed Justice Minister André Luiz Mendonça must be aware that murders are on the rise in 20 of Brazil&#8217;s 27 states since late last year.

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