Brazil’s Covid-19 numbers only show tip of the iceberg

. May 26, 2020
Brazil's Covid-19 numbers only show tip of the iceberg Hospital ronaldo Gazolla, in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Photocarioca/Shutterstock

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Brazil’s official Covid-19 figures could be seven times lower than the actual number of cases. A new judge in charge of Brazil’s Electoral Court. The country’s first cloned farm animal dies.

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Covid-19 in Brazil: millions, not thousands

The real number of Brazilians who have been infected by the coronavirus should be

at least seven times higher than official statistics suggest. The finding comes after the initial stage of the very first nationwide study on the Covid-19 spread in Brazil, commissioned by the federal government, coordinated by the Federal University of Pelotas (in southern Brazil), and carried out by pollster Ibope.</p> <ul><li>The research suggests that between 2.7 and 3.3 million people have been infected —&nbsp;against the <a href="">official tally</a> of just 375,000.</li><li>In some cities of the Amazon, the infection rate has reportedly reached <em>25 percent</em> of the local population.</li><li>&#8220;Even with the margin of error, we can say for sure that the Covid-19 count in Brazil is in the millions, not the thousands.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The infection curve shows no sign of slowing down. On Monday, Brazil was —&nbsp;for the second straight day&nbsp;—&nbsp;the country with the most new deaths in 24 hours. This time, it wasn&#8217;t even close: the U.S. recorded 500 new deaths, against Brazil&#8217;s 807.</p> <ul><li>What is scariest is that the numbers tend to be lower on Mondays, as a leftover effect from the weekend. With reduced staff, it is harder to account for every victim and patient, so we should expect the daily figures to rise in the coming days.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2555561" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p><strong>Meanwhile … </strong>The Brazilian government continues to offer little guidance for people on how to weather the Covid-19 crisis. The government&#8217;s main gamble is antimalarial drug chloroquine —&nbsp;which has no proven efficacy. On Monday, the World Health Organization suspended trials with the medicine due to its potentially damaging side effects on the heart. Brazil, however, will not interrupt its studies.</p> <p><strong>States.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro is not the only underperforming leader. State governors are also dropping the ball by avoiding lockdowns, despite the scientific consensus of their necessity, especially in densely populated areas such as the metropolitan regions of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo&#8217;s current rate of infections and deaths per 1 million people is higher than Spain&#8217;s when the country went into lockdown.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2570236" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The challenges of Brazil&#8217;s new Chief Electoral Justice</h2> <p>On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso was sworn in as the new presiding justice of the Superior Electoral Court, a position he will hold for two years. His inaugural speech was filled with shots at President Jair Bolsonaro, who attended the event via Zoom.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>Justice Barroso takes over the court at a hugely challenging moment. Here is what he will have on his plate:</p> <p><strong>2020 municipal elections.</strong> The coronavirus crisis has upended Brazil&#8217;s municipal elections, scheduled for October. After much resistance, political leaders have finally started talking about postponing election day —&nbsp;and even spreading the vote across multiple days, with different age groups being assigned time slots to show up at polls. The Brazilian electoral system is, by design, a health hazard in Covid-19 times. It puts millions of people in confined spaces, standing in line (often for hours), and touching the same voting machine.</p> <ul><li>But postponing the election is anything <em>but</em> an easy ordeal. Extending incumbents&#8217; terms would be a &#8220;dangerous precedent,&#8221; according to House Speaker Rodrigo Maia. So how would Brazil&#8217;s system be able to adapt to the new sanitary requirements, at such short notice?</li></ul> <p><strong>2018 elections.</strong> In a way, the 2018 election has not finished. Two lawsuits around alleged electoral law violations by the Jair Bolsonaro campaign are still underway. If the court were to convict the campaign, the race would be voided — the president and his VP would be removed from office — and new elections would take place.</p> <ul><li>Impeachment via parliamentary means is becoming unlikely, mainly due to the so-called &#8220;VP Risk,&#8221; that is, the unpredictability of what a Hamilton Mourão administration would look like. Therefore, the electoral court has become the best bet for any political forces wanting to remove Mr. Bolsonaro. That has never happened to a president before&nbsp;—&nbsp;and would take the institutional crisis to new heights.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s first adult cloned animal is dead</h2> <p>Cloned Dutch Belted cow Lenda (&#8220;legend,&#8221; in Portuguese) has died, according to Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. The death occurred on May 18, but was only reported now. Lenda was born on September 4, 2003, &#8220;created&#8221; from granular cells from another dead animal.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Almost 24 years since Dolly the sheep was born in Scotland, cloning mammals <a href="">remains a major challenge</a> for researchers. Almost 17 at her death, Lenda was a rare example of success. She not only reached adulthood but also bred four generations of calves.</p> <ul><li>Cloning cattle is an agriculturally important technology and can be used to study mammalian development.</li></ul> <p><strong>Further research.</strong> The necropsy exam found no significant alterations in Lenda, but Embrapa scientists will continue analyzing her DNA to check for mutations.</p> <p><strong>Other examples.</strong> Embrapa has cloned other bovines, including Latin America&#8217;s first such case in 2001. Four years later, Brazilians began experiments cloning Junqueira cows, a Brazilian breed threatened with extinction.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Aviation.</strong> Latam Airlines, the biggest carrier in Latin America (and second-largest in Brazil), has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S., alongside affiliates in Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. In the filing, the company mentions the pandemic has &#8220;brought aviation to a virtual standstill.&#8221; In Brazil, the company is negotiating a BRL 2-billion loan with the National Development Bank — but the money can only be used in Brazil.</li><li><strong>Probe 1. </strong>On Monday, President Jair Bolsonaro met with Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, who <a href="">presides over the investigation</a> into whether Mr. Bolsonaro tried to illegally interfere with the Federal Police —&nbsp;and could potentially lead to his removal from office. Hours later, the president published a statement saying he believes the probe will be shelved without an indictment request. Both moves were seen as an overt attempt to put pressure on the prosecutor general.</li><li><strong>Probe 2.</strong> Six federal marshals paid a visit to the president&#8217;s communication office on Monday, and seized the camera used to record an April 22 cabinet meeting — which is the central piece of evidence in the investigation. Forensic experts will determine whether or not the <a href="">footage released on Friday</a> was tampered with in any way.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Probe 3.</strong> Detective Tácio Muzzi was named head of the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro. His job will be put under an abnormal level of scrutiny, as his office was at the center of the fallout between Mr. Bolsonaro and former Justice Minister Sergio Moro. The president wanted more control over the Feds in Rio, even saying to Mr. Moro in a text message: &#8220;You&#8217;ve got 27 superintendencies. I just want one.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Crisis ahead.</strong> Data from the national banks association shows that Brazilians have pulled a combined BRL 2.1 billion (USD 385 million) out of pension funds. The move is explained by people&#8217;s immediate need for money —&nbsp;as companies are cutting wages or laying off their staff. But if it helps mitigate a short-term crisis, it could spark a long-term one, as Brazilians will have fewer funds available when they retire.

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