Jair Bolsonaro’s “attack on public health” an act of war

. Mar 16, 2020
bolsonaro coronavirus Jair Bolsonaro will undergo a new test for the novel coronavirus. That didn't keep him from touching at least 72 supporters. Photo: José Cruz/Abr

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We’re covering this week Jair Bolsonaro and his “attack on public health.” And the silent dengue fever crisis around Latin America. How Brazilian markets performed. Also, what you should be looking out for this week—and the most important facts of the previous seven days.

Bolsonaro asks supporters to help him “stay and govern”


woke up on Friday anxious to find out whether or not President Jair Bolsonaro had been infected by the novel coronavirus. And it became yet another occasion for him to <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/13/president-bolsonaro-trolls-media-covid-19-coronavirus-scare/">troll the media</a>. Members of his administration—including his own son—leaked that the president had tested positive, only for Mr. Bolsonaro to debunk what he called the &#8220;fake news media.&#8221; The president, however, will take another test, as 11 members of the delegation that traveled to the U.S. with him a week ago <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/12/covid-19-brazil-presidential-palace-trump-bolsonaro/">tested positive</a>. The president was also put in self-isolation.</p> <p><strong>Protests. </strong>On Sunday, however, Mr. Bolsonaro dismissed all medical advice and, despite being possibly infected, he took part in anti-Congress protests and shook the hands of his supporters, asking them to &#8220;help [him] remain [in office] and govern.&#8221; It was unexpected, even for an administration that has <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/06/08/bolsonaro-brazil-land-science-skepticism/">rejected science as a method</a>.</p> <p><strong>&#8216;Superspreader.&#8217;</strong> Journalist Bruno Nomura analyzed footage of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s interaction with supporters. He had direct contact with at least 272 people—between greetings and taking their cell phones for selfies.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1541240"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Jair Bolsonaro was heavily criticized by the heads of both congressional houses—who called his actions an &#8220;attack on public health.&#8221; And answered by defying them. &#8220;Dear [Senate President] Davi Alcolumbre, dear [Speaker] Rodrigo Maia, do you want to go out on the streets? Go out and see how you are received.&#8221;</p> <ul><li>Mr. Bolsonaro is trying to use the devotion of his supporters—who held demonstrations in 12 states amid a pandemic—to put fear into Congress.</li></ul> <p><strong>Losing support. </strong>The president&#8217;s erratic attitude is costing him useful support from neo-liberal wings. Political renewal movement <em>Livres!</em> and libertarian parties such as Novo—which had shown adamant support for the administration in 2019—lashed out the president&#8217;s nonchalant approach to the Covid-19 pandemic (which he calls &#8220;hysteria&#8221; and a media &#8220;fantasy&#8221;), and even more orthodox economists have criticized the tardiness of the government to draft stimulus measures aimed at avoiding a recession.</p> <ul><li>In WhatsApp groups, state governors have said the president&#8217;s actions constitute an impeachable offense. While impeachment ideas remain vague, that word has been evoked several times over the past month or so—which is never a good sign for a head of state.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>South America worries about Covid-19. But they shouldn&#8217;t forget about dengue fever&nbsp;</h2> <p>With the exception of Nicaragua, every single country in Latin America and the Caribbean has reported cases of Covid-19, with six deaths so far—in Ecuador (2), Argentina (2), Panama (1), and Guyana (1). According to all projections, cases should skyrocket over the next few weeks, which led the Argentinian government to close its borders for 15 days. However, as much concern as the novel coronavirus spread requires, countries shouldn&#8217;t forget about an old enemy: dengue fever.</p> <p><strong>Transmission.</strong> Dengue is spread by the <em>Aedes aegypti</em> mosquito, which thrives in warm, humid, urban areas. If not treated correctly, the fever can quickly lead to death.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>Central America has undergone the worst dengue fever epidemic on record, with 46,600 patients currently battling the disease, <a href="https://www.paho.org/data/index.php/en/mnu-topics/indicadores-dengue-en/dengue-nacional-en/252-dengue-pais-ano-en.html">according to the Pan American Health Organization</a>. In the Southern Cone—Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile—there are 522,000 patients.</p> <ul><li>In Paraguay, the Health Ministry confirmed 46 dengue-related deaths, with at least 14,156 cases in 2020 alone. Even Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez and his wife contracted the disease, putting the country on alert.</li></ul> <p><strong>Central America. </strong>In Honduras, at least 180 people died of dengue in 2019—against only three in the previous year. The government <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/29/world/americas/honduras-dengue-epidemic.html">declared</a> a public health emergency.</p> <p><strong>Brazil.</strong> The country has returned to <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/09/17/aedes-aegypti-dengue-fly-brazil-cant-swat/">dengue&#8217;s endemic territory</a>, with 2.6 million cases in 2019—over 8 times more than in 2018. This year alone, over 57,000 cases were reported by mid-February, with dozens of cities declaring a state of emergency.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Bottom line.</strong> Dengue fever usually has a tougher effect on poorer populations. And it doesn&#8217;t help that this outbreak has taken a backseat to the novel coronavirus.</p> <p><em>—with Lucas Berti</em></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Markets</h2> <p>Following their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, markets reopen today in reaction to the U.S. Federal Reserve&#8217;s decision on Sunday to promote an emergency cut to its benchmark interest rate to near zero and to say it would buy USD 700 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds. The move gave a sensation that the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S. is much worse than it looks—and markets crashed in Asia, Europe, and Australia. Dow futures crashed over 1,000 points. All signs point to a terrible week in Brazil, too.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Healthcare companies hemorrhaging money in 2020</h2> <p>The Covid-19 outbreak has plummeted stocks of tourism companies and airlines—but also healthcare companies in Brazil. Losses in the year hover around 40 percent for many of the country&#8217;s main groups. The trend began late in February, just before Brazil had its first reported case—and has sharpened since.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1475066"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Looking ahead</h2> <ul><li><strong>Coronavirus.</strong> After receiving <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/14/covid-19-crisis-chips-away-paulo-guedes-image/">criticism from all sides</a>, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes is coming up with a plan to boost the economy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. He is expected to go against his economic doctrine, proposing measures to help specific sectors such as airlines and tourism companies. He will also lift some of banks&#8217; reserve requirements and offer cheap credit to companies and individuals.</li><li><strong>Expectations (UPDATED).</strong> The Central Bank published today the first Focus Report (a weekly survey with top-rated investment firms on their forecasts for the economy) since the novel coronavirus outbreak was considered a global pandemic. Analysts slashed predictions for Brazil&#8217;s 2020 GDP growth: from 1.99 to 1.68 percent. They also lowered expectations for inflation (due to the economic slowdown), and increased their forex predictions.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1591463"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <ul><li><strong>Interests.</strong> Between tomorrow and Wednesday, the Central Bank&#8217;s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to set Brazil&#8217;s benchmark interest rates for the next 45 days. After the Fed&#8217;s Sunday decision, many analysts foresee a new cut from the current level of 4.25 percent, though this is not a consensus. Some also believe Brazil&#8217;s Central Bank could hold the rates where they are.&nbsp;</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>In case you missed it</h2> <ul><li><strong>Doomsday week.</strong> Last week was a hectic one for the stock market, with volatility reigning from start to finish. The São Paulo stock market <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/09/brazilian-stock-market-triggers-circuit-breaker/">triggered a circuit breaker</a> four times—twice on Thursday alone. Petrobras, Brazil&#8217;s largest company, lost BRL 102 billion in market value, adding to what has already been a negative 2020. Covid-19 was not the only culprit, however, as an <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/03/10/2020-oil-crisis-disrupt-brazil-petrobras/''">oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia</a> also made investors jittery.</li><li><strong>Air travel.</strong> Starting today—and running at least through May 6—American Airlines has suspended all flights between the U.S. and Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Guyana. The move does not only target South America—American is set to <a href="https://www.seudinheiro.com/2020/empresas/american-airlines-suspende-todos-os-voos-para-o-brasil/">reduce its international flights</a> by 75 percent.</li><li><strong>Industry.</strong> Brazil entered 2020 with a <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/11/brazil-tackle-covid-19-coronavirus-industry-telecom/">0.9-percent rise in industrial output</a>—posting the best numbers for the month of January in the last three years. Still, there is no sign that the recent sluggish trend of the industrial sector has ended. Brazil&#8217;s industrial output remains 17 percent below its peak in 2011, and is currently at levels similar to 2009. This is, before the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak have even been felt in the sector.</li><li><strong>Former supporter.</strong> Lawyer Gustavo Bebianno, 56, died in the early hours of Saturday of a sudden heart attack. He was once Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s most faithful supporter, and coordinated his 2018 campaign and became a member of his cabinet. But his relationship with the president&#8217;s family quickly eroded and <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2019/02/20/brazil-crisis-mode-bolsonaro/">Mr. Bebianno was fired less than two months later</a>. After leaving the government, the lawyer gave multiple interviews hinting that he knew about Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s dirty campaign &#8220;secrets&#8221;—without ever releasing anything.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p><em>This report has been updated.</em>

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