Brazil’s dwindling interest in Covid-19

. Jun 03, 2020
coronavirus old news brazil Image: Franzi/Shutterstock

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We’re covering today Brazilians’ waning interest for coronavirus information. Why farmers must pay attention to changes in China’s agricultural policies. And the woes of Brazilian airlines.  

Coronavirus old news to Brazilians?

According to pollster Datafolha, 34 percent of Brazilians are “afraid” of the coronavirus — and 45 percent are “very afraid.”

Still, the interest in gathering information online about the pandemic has dwindled very quickly. Google searches for the terms &#8220;coronavirus&#8221; or &#8220;Covid-19&#8221; (in multiple spellings) are only 13 percent of levels March 20, when online interest about the pandemic peaked.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2678848" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p><strong>Why is that happening? </strong>We asked Amanda Coutinho, a postdoctoral researcher on culture and society at the Federal University of Bahia. She points out a few potential explanations for this phenomenon:</p> <ul><li>The war of narratives between state governors and the federal government has created a confused public arena;</li><li>The federal government itself has spread Covid-19 denial, with President Jair Bolsonaro being the first to boycott social isolation measures;</li><li>Despite infection curves remaining on an upwards trend, states are already reopening&nbsp;— giving the impression that the worst of the pandemic is behind us;</li><li>A historical Brazilian tendency of &#8220;not dealing with problems until they disappear.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Distractions. </strong>The political crisis is also dividing people&#8217;s attention. When an expletive-ridden video recording of an April 22 cabinet became public, the number of tweets with the word &#8220;government&#8221; reached 3.6 million —&nbsp;while those about the coronavirus amounted to just 907,400.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> This moment of coronavirus fatigue comes as the country&#8217;s Covid-19 death toll reaches 31,199.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2690347" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p><strong>Rushed decisions.</strong> Most states began some form of a <a href="">reopening plan this week</a>. A group of scientists running the data platform Covid-19 Brasil warns that deaths could spike 160 percent within a matter of days —&nbsp;as was the case in cities which reopened too soon. &#8220;The Brazilian population was cleared to go to the slaughterhouse,&#8221; said Domingos Alves, who runs the University of São Paulo&#8217;s Health Intelligence Lab.</p> <p><strong>Meanwhile … </strong>Federal prosecutors opened an investigation into discrepancies between how much money the federal government has pledged to the coronavirus fight and how much it is actually spending. Two economists revealed that of a promised total of BRL 18.9 billion (USD 3.6 billion), only BRL 8 billion had been effectively spent as of May 14.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilian producers monitor changes in China&#8217;s agricultural policies</h2> <p>Soybean shipments from Brazil to China reached record highs in April (16 million tons) and May (15.5 million tons), as the Asian country attempts to stockpile for a potential second wave of Covid-19. Still, it is a time for caution for Brazilian producers — who must keep a close eye on changes in Chinese agricultural policy for the post-pandemic world. According to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), domestic players must monitor changes in trade, logistics, and storage policies that should emerge within the next few months.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> China has gobbled up 40 percent of Brazilian exports in May 2020 — mainly commodities. Moreover, Brazilian producers are still facing logistics challenges, which makes any change in Chinese policy an event of high magnitude.</p> <ul><li>When Chinese ports were closed due to the pandemic, Brazilian farms were not yet harvesting soybeans. Were this to have been the case, producers would have found it impossible to store what is set to be an all-time record harvest.</li></ul> <p><strong>Meanwhile … </strong>While agricultural exports to China increased, Beijing slapped new restrictions on other products, such as rubber, electric materials, and metallurgical products. In 2020, Brazil&#8217;s National Confederation of Industry (CNI) spotted 17 new barriers on Brazilian products — ten coming from China.</p> <ul><li>Since May 2018, CNI mapped 70 restrictions. The Brazilian government has managed to negotiate the removal of only seven of them.</li></ul> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1078940"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilian airlines call mayday</h2> <p>With most of their planes grounded, Brazilian carriers continue to lose massive sums of money every day. And there are still many loose ends to be tied up in negotiations over a bailout from the National Development Bank (BNDES). The plan is expected to give BRL 2 billion to each of Brazil&#8217;s three major players —&nbsp;Gol, Latam, and Azul — but they believe the money is not enough.</p> <ul><li>The Infrastructure Ministry has gone all-in in an attempt to save the airlines and has pushed for increasing the bailout deal. However, the BNDES has been told by the Economy Ministry to prioritize small- and medium-sized companies instead.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The air travel sector has been one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic. And the path back to normal service will be a painful and costly one. Companies will have to reduce their number of passengers and adapt planes to new social distancing rules.</p> <p><strong>Red alert.</strong> Brazil&#8217;s air travel market is already highly concentrated, and Covid-19 disruption is set to aggravate this situation. Last year, the country&#8217;s fourth-biggest airline <a href="">Avianca went out of business</a>. Last month, Latam&#8217;s Chilean-based parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Now, Azul has hired the same law firm which dealt with Avianca&#8217;s administration process.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Corruption. </strong>Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel has removed private organization Iabas from the administration of the state&#8217;s Covid-19 field hospitals. It has failed to deliver complete facilities on time, and last week the <a href="">Federal Police launched an operation</a> into possible corrupt links between Mr. Witzel and Iabas. The organization, which received 80 percent of Rio&#8217;s Covid-19 budget, is suspected of overpricing inputs and paying kickbacks to the governor.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Aid.</strong> A recent survey showed that one-third of high-income families in Brazil applied for the <a href="">BRL 600 emergency salary</a> created by the government to help informal workers and vulnerable populations&nbsp;— and 69 percent had their request granted. A report by the Federal Accounts Court, which monitors public spending, says there is a risk that over 8 million people unlawfully received the aid — while 2.3 million who were entitled to the benefit are believed to have been excluded.</li><li><strong>Fake news.</strong> The parliamentary hearings committee investigating the use of disinformation for political ends identified over 2 million ads paid for by the federal government on websites, smartphone apps, and YouTube channels with &#8220;inappropriate content.&#8221; The list includes portals that spread false information, offer illegal investments, or even link to pornography. These 2 million ads were identified between June and July 2019 alone. They were <a href="">run through automated systems</a>, but advertisers do have some agency in the process and can block certain types of content.</li><li><strong>Health.</strong> The Brazilian Senate passed a bill freezing medicine prices and health insurance premiums during the pandemic. But while the bill does not please pharmaceutical industries or insurance companies, it came out much softer than the original draft — which also prevented companies from halting services and products even in cases of default.</li><li><strong>G10 or G11.</strong> Initially ignored by the Trump White House, President Jair Bolsonaro said he will get an invitation to the U.S.-based &#8220;expanded G7&#8221; September meeting. On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a &#8220;G10 or G11,&#8221; with the world&#8217;s top 7 richest nations, plus Russia, South Korea, India, and Australia … but not Brazil. On Tuesday, Mr. Bolsonaro <a href="">tweeted</a> that he talked to Mr. Trump and that Brazil will have a seat at the meeting.

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