As aid program ends, Bolsonaro’s popularity dwindles

. Jan 08, 2021
approval bolsonaro Bolsonaro with supporters in Vera Cruz, Bahia. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

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Today, we explain how the end of the coronavirus emergency aid program could erode Jair Bolsonaro’s approval ratings. Brazil tops 200,000 Covid-19 deaths. And the anatomy of a bungled vaccine strategy.

Bolsonaro’s approval dips in first post-aid poll

As the government-sponsored coronavirus emergency salary program expired at the end of 2020, analysts believed that President Jair Bolsonaro’s approval ratings would go down with it.

Indeed, a new opinion poll by PoderData — the first since the end of the aid initiative — corroborates that prediction. In January, the administration’s rejection rates jumped from 47 to 52 percent, outside the margin of error.</p> <ul><li>Emergency aid payments were first pegged at BRL 600 (USD 112) but halved in September and expired completely at the turn of the year.&nbsp;</li><li>The benefit reached over 67 million people and poured a reported BRL 1 trillion (nearly USD 200 billion) into the economy.&nbsp;</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/4888837"><script src=""></script></div> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Economists have warned that the absence of a replacement program could cast up to 30 percent of Brazilians below the poverty line. Economic crises combined with low approval are a <a href="">dangerous mix for Brazilian presidents</a>.</p> <p><strong>Approval ratings moving forward. </strong>The share of Brazilians saying their lives improved since Mr. Bolsonaro took office dropped from 37 to 25 percent. Meanwhile, those believing their lives got worse now comprise 34 percent, up from 28 percent in September. According to PoderData, 59 percent of Brazilians lost their jobs or part of their income during the pandemic.</p> <ul><li>Data by think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas shows that inflation was much harder on the poor in 2020. Prices went up 6.3 percent for lower-income families — pushed by food products, which became <a href="">15 percent more expensive over the past 12 months</a>.</li></ul> <p><em><strong>Remember: <a href="">End of coronavirus aid puts Bolsonaro’s approval in jeopardy</a></strong></em></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>200,000 deaths later, government scrambles for vaccine</h2> <p>Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello promised Brazilians that the country will have enough doses of coronavirus vaccine to inoculate the entire population. He mentioned a new deal with the São Paulo-based Butantan Biological Institute for 46 million doses of the Chinese-made CoronaVac (and an option for an extra 56 million) — which <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> confirmed with multiple government sources.</p> <ul><li>The government had shunned CoronaVac for months, with President Jair Bolsonaro saying his administration would never purchase it. Now, with pressure to begin vaccination as soon as possible, Mr. Pazuello claimed the Health Ministry has wanted CoronaVac all along.</li><li>The Health Ministry was given five days to present the Supreme Court with clarifications about Brazil&#8217;s vaccine inputs stocks, that would corroborate Mr. Pazuello&#8217;s claim that the country will have enough vaccines for all.</li></ul> <p><strong>Efficacy rate.</strong> Butantan officials announced that CoronaVac posted an efficacy rate of 78 percent in Brazilian clinical trials. Moreover, the study participants which did end up contracting the virus only suffered mild infections. But the institute failed to provide detailed data, despite the fact the disclosure was postponed multiple times precisely to allow for comprehensive reports to be made available.</p> <p><strong>Unanswered question.</strong> It remains unclear why neither Butantan nor British-Swedish lab AstraZeneca have yet to file requests for the emergency approval of their vaccines in Brazil.</p> <ul><li>A poll shows that 75 percent of Brazilians intend to get inoculated against Covid-19.</li></ul> <p><strong>Milestone. </strong>On Thursday, Brazil became just the second country in the world to top the mark of 200,000 coronavirus deaths. Experts, however, have said for months that official tallies are highly underestimated due to low testing and data collection problems. To illustrate the discrepancy, deaths from acute respiratory distress syndrome jumped 4,000 percent in 2020.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Manaus, the biggest city in Brazil&#8217;s Amazon region, is <a href="">once again on the cusp of a health system collapse</a>. In other cities, ICU occupancy rates inch closer to 100 percent, forcing authorities to reopen field hospitals.</li><li>In Salvador, scientists have identified the first case of a coronavirus reinfection with a deadlier variant <a href="">initially found in South Africa</a>.</li></ul> <p><strong>Reaction.</strong> &#8220;Life goes on,&#8221; said President Jair Bolsonaro, speaking about the latest Covid-19 milestone during a live social media broadcast. In April 2020, after Brazil’s Covid-19 death figures surpassed China’s for the first time, he infamously told reporters “so what?&#8221;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The anatomy of a bungled vaccine strategy</h2> <p>Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Brazil&#8217;s Health Minister at the beginning of the pandemic — before being fired by President Bolsonaro — gave an exclusive interview to Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares about the reasons why Brazil is lagging behind in the vaccine race, even in comparison to its Latin American peers.</p> <ul><li><strong>Over-politicization of the vaccine.</strong> &#8220;The federal government never realized that it will take multiple vaccines to supply the 210-million-plus population. But it placed all bets on one vaccine [produced by AstraZeneca], trying to discredit CoronaVac. It is a cowardly and reckless logic.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Sabotage from the top.</strong> &#8220;The government sabotaged scientific work in the country, trying to rush people back into a normal life, touting hydroxychloroquine, and pressuring people into not wearing masks.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Militarizing the Health Ministry.</strong> &#8220;The president placed [Army General Eduardo Pazuello] there because he wanted someone who could watch as people die and do nothing. His first move in office was trying to hide official data. Our health officials are extremely qualified but are led by untrained people.&#8221; (The Supreme Court had to step in after the Health Ministry&#8217;s Covid-19 dashboard began hiding daily tallies of cases and deaths.)</li></ul> <p><strong>A toxic environment.</strong> Débora Álvares spoke to multiple Health Ministry officials this week, who described an atmosphere of &#8220;mistrust and surveillance,&#8221; after the department&#8217;s top echelon was replaced by military officers. Mr. Pazuello has named at least 20 Army men to key positions — including an intelligence officer to coordinate vaccine purchases.</p> <ul><li>&#8220;Back in August, we already knew what the leading vaccines would be. We could have started negotiations then — and also stockpiled syringes and needles. The government chose inertia and now complains that prices are too high,&#8221; said one official.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Capitol invasion.</strong> After President Jair Bolsonaro suggested Brazil could have a &#8220;worse problem than the U.S. in 2022&#8221; when commenting on Wednesday&#8217;s invasion of the U.S. Capitol building by extremist groups, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo minimized the incident, calling the rioters &#8220;upstanding citizens.&#8221; Brasília correspondents Débora Álvares and Renato Alves explained how <a href="">far-right groups are planning similar acts to the one seen in Washington for Brazil later this month</a>.</li><li><strong>Climate. </strong>As we explained early in December, <a href="">Brazilian farmers are in distress due to extreme climate conditions</a>. Droughts have intensified in grain-producing regions, and a sizable amount of crops had to be replanted (2.5 and 10 percent in Mato Grosso and São Paulo, respectively). In the South, roughly 700 million tons of soy are expected to be lost. The La Niña phenomenon, when cooler-than-normal surface waters in the equatorial Pacific create abnormal rainfall in South America, should intensify later in January.</li><li><strong>Stock market.</strong> The latest vaccine news boosted optimism among investors and the São Paulo Stock Exchange closed up 2.76 percent, as the Ibovespa index reached a nominal record of 122,385 points. Still, the Brazilian Real lost ground against the U.S. Dollar, slipping 1.82 percent (USD 1 : BRL 5.39).</li><li><strong>Unicorn. </strong>MadeiraMadeira, a startup specialized in selling construction material and furniture online, has become Brazil&#8217;s latest (and 14th) unicorn. The Curitiba-based company raised USD 190 million in a recent funding round, topping the USD 1-billion valuation mark. It is the first unicorn in Brazil to have a <a href="">non-white person as one of its founders</a>.</li><li><strong>Oil and gas.</strong> An association of oil companies has requested that the Health Ministry include offshore oil platform workers in the <a href="">list of priority patients</a> for the national coronavirus vaccination plan. The oil industry is considered an essential sector, and workers on offshore platforms are exposed to outbreaks due to remaining confined for weeks on end. Unions have accused Petrobras of not sufficiently protecting operators, claiming that the official tally of 3,750 oil workers contaminated with Covid-19 is drastically underestimated.

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