Health Minister blows his lines before the Senate and faces pressure

. Feb 12, 2021
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello speaks before the Senate. Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello speaks before the Senate. Photo: Waldemir Barreto/AS/CN

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Today, we look at how the Health Minister fared in a Senate appearance. How cities are trying to prevent Carnival from happening amid the pandemic — and the economic impacts of that decision.

Important: Due to Carnival celebrations, The Brazilian Report will take a break with our newsletters. We will be back on Ash Wednesday. Until there, you can continue following our daily content on

Pazuello bungles Senate appearance, call for hearings gains steam

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello went to the Senate on Thursday in an attempt to convince lawmakers

that the federal government is doing everything in its power to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Senior officials of the Jair Bolsonaro administration said his performance would be decisive to nix opposition plans to launch a <a href="">congressional hearings committee</a> into the Health Ministry&#8217;s conduct during the pandemic. But even his allies admitted that his performance was poor: Mr. Pazuello&#8217;s statements were reportedly dismissed as woeful, confusing, contradictory, and even misleading.</p> <ul><li>At one point, Mr. Pazuello said <a href="">there weren&#8217;t enough vaccines</a> available for Brazil to purchase and distribute. Then, he promised to vaccinate all Brazilians by the end of the year.</li><li>He also claimed he was not briefed about an imminent lack of oxygen in Manaus, where Covid-19 patients suffocated to death within hospitals. The warnings Mr. Pazuello did receive, he claimed, were about problems in the municipal gas networks causing a lack of pressure in hospitals&#8217; oxygen supplies. But the Solicitor General had already confirmed that the government was indeed warned, and senators called Mr. Pazuello&#8217;s explanation &#8220;untrue.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Opposition senators already have enough signatures to request a hearings committee —&nbsp;which could be devastating for an administration that refused to buy vaccines in advance, gambled on unproven treatments, and flat-out disregarded all scientific advice on how to deal with the pandemic.</p> <p><strong>Yes, but … </strong>The decision on whether or not to open the hearings committee lies with <a href="">Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco</a>. On February 1, he took office as head of the upper house and promised harmony with the Executive branch. </p> <ul><li>But Congress insiders agree that the Health Minister has lost all leeway — and if the vaccination rollout doesn&#8217;t pick up steam quickly, lowering the number of new infections and deaths, the momentum against Mr. Pazuello will be too strong to contain.</li></ul> <p><strong>By the numbers.</strong> Thursday saw the third-highest number of new coronavirus deaths (1,452) reported in the country. Brazil&#8217;s 7-day rolling average of new daily casualties has remained above 1,000 for 22 days, and is the highest since June.</p> <ul><li>Alarmingly, researchers in the Amazonian state of Rondônia have encountered a previously unseen mutation of the virus. That could help explain why the state has fallen into a health collapse, without a single ICU bed available.</li></ul> <p><strong>Shrug.</strong> &#8220;Life goes on, there&#8217;s no point in sitting home crying,&#8221; said President Jair Bolsonaro, when questioned about the numbers.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>How cities will try to avoid Carnival</h2> <p>At the turn of the year, authorities canceled official New Year&#8217;s Eve celebrations, but otherwise left the decision of not engaging in parties or gatherings up to citizens&#8217; own consciences. But after multiple reports of <a href="">massive parties</a> popped up on social media — followed by a rapid surge of Covid-19 cases and deaths — administrations have decided to be <a href="">more hands-on during the Carnival holiday</a>, which is set to begin on Saturday. </p> <p>So far, 20 states have banned celebrations and canceled the public holiday altogether, hoping that will be enough to keep people confined in their current routines. Others have gone the extra mile:</p> <ul><li>In Rio de Janeiro, City Hall said it will monitor the city with <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=20_01">24-hour CCTV cameras</a> and will put 1,000 agents on the streets to fine revelers who insist on gathering. Venues which put on events could be shut down.</li><li>The state of São Paulo will block tourism buses headed to beach cities.</li><li>In Minas Gerais, the Military Police and Fire Brigades will operate as &#8220;anti-Carnival squads.&#8221; But Governor Romeu Zema said celebrations are likely to be rescheduled once vaccination advances.</li><li>In Salvador — one of the most popular Carnival destinations in the world — big stars will perform on live social media streaming sessions. But workers in the entertainment industry have protested to ask for authorities to plan for a way to hold safe cultural events. Some complain they have been out of work for 11 months.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Carnival is not only a major cultural event in Brazil, it also generates BRL 8.1 billion (USD 1.5 billion) for the economy in a matter of four days.</p> <p><strong>History.</strong> Before 2021, the only time Rio de Janeiro did not celebrate Carnival was in 1912. That year&#8217;s celebration was postponed due to the period of mourning after the death of the Baron of Rio Branco — the father of Brazilian diplomacy — but revelers circumvented the rules and organized <em>two</em> carnivals instead.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Carnival prohibition crushes tourism sector expectations</h2> <p>The pandemic cost Brazilian tourism operators BRL 274 billion (USD 51 billion) between January 2020 and now. The crisis also led to the loss of 397,100 formal jobs last year, according to the National Confederation of Tourism. Companies hoped to recoup some of their losses during this year&#8217;s Carnival — which, as we mentioned above, has been canceled.</p> <p><strong>Frustrated hopes.</strong> Coronavirus cases have been increasing since November, leading tourists to rethink their Carnival plans. A recent survey shows that half of tourism operators expect their sales for the holiday to be less than half of pre-pandemic levels. &#8220;Even amid the pandemic, we thought people would travel,&#8221; said Braztoa President Roberto Nedelciu in a statement. &#8220;But that did not happen.&#8221;</p> <p><strong>Assessing the damage.</strong> Besides a loss of BRL 8.1 billion in revenue, the country will cease to open 25,000 temporary jobs. That is no small number, considering that unemployment rates are currently at record levels and the government&#8217;s aid program expired one month and a half ago.</p> <ul><li>Major brewer Ambev created its own emergency aid scheme for street beer vendors who will not work during this year&#8217;s Carnival, aiming to support up to 20,000 people.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Economy.</strong> The services sector, which is the backbone of the Brazilian economy, suffered a 7.8 percent contraction in 2020 — the <a href="">worst result on record</a>. Unsurprisingly, the segments that suffered the most were those heavily reliant on in-person activities, such as services to families (-35.6 percent) — which includes tourism, restaurants, and education services — professional and administrative services (-11.4 percent), and transportation (-7.7 percent). </li><li><strong>Aid.</strong> House Speaker <a href="">Arthur Lira</a> indicated that his political group in Congress, known as the &#8220;Big Center,&#8221; will not only demand horse-trading favors from President Jair Bolsonaro, but also wants to have an input on policymaking. Mr. Lira publicly called out the government while supporting the creation of a new aid program to replace the <a href="">coronavirus emergency salary</a>. Mr. Bolsonaro said the initiative will come in March, but failed to provide any further details. Meanwhile, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said his hands are tied unless Congress passes a new &#8220;War Budget&#8221; — a parallel budget used during 2020 which allowed the government to increase spending to fight the pandemic without breaking budgetary laws.</li><li><strong>Content. </strong>Brazil&#8217;s streaming wars are set to become fiercer with the arrival of HBO Max in July. The coming months will be crucial in the <a href="">battle for eyeballs</a>, as the number of subscribers to <a href="">streaming services</a> exceeded the traditional pay-TV customer base for the first time last year. By 2024, Latin America is expected to have 110.7 million users on these platforms, while the number of pay-TV customers via cable or satellite is likely to remain stagnant.</li><li><strong>Data leak.</strong> The Federal Police will investigate a data leak affecting over 102 million customers of telecommunications providers Vivo and Claro. The data stolen by hackers include phone numbers, call logs, and other personal data — and President Jair Bolsonaro is among the victims.</li><li><strong>Banking.</strong> Net profits of state-controlled bank Banco do Brasil dropped 22 percent in 2020 — mainly due to enhanced provisions against default. </li><li><strong>Rio de Janeiro.</strong> The Superior Court of Justice, Brazil&#8217;s second-highest judicial body, accepted charges of <a href="">corruption and money laundering</a> against Wilson Witzel — the suspended governor of Rio de Janeiro. He is accused of taking kickbacks from companies that embezzled part of Rio’s coronavirus budget; he was <a href="">suspended from office</a> and faces impeachment.

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