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Bolsonarists said the pandemic would be over by now. That was 11,000 deaths ago

. May 13, 2020
Bolsonarists said the pandemic would be over by now. That was 11,000 deaths ago Former Citizenship Minister Osmar Terra (left) and Jair Bolsonaro. "Two, three more weeks, and it's over." Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR

Exactly one month ago, Congressman Osmar Terra — Jair Bolsonaro’s Citizenship Minister at the time — sent an audio message to Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, foretelling the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The good news is that the epidemic is already declining. The peak was reached late in March […] The epidemic is not falling, it’s plummeting. The number of new cases is going down at an astonishing pace. Two, three more weeks, and it’s over. […] It’s time to celebrate.”

When Mr. Terra prematurely called for celebrations, the coronavirus had infected 25,000 Brazilians, killing 1,500. Now, cases have reached almost 180,000 people and 12,400 Brazilians have died of Covid-19.

</p> <p>But Mr. Terra&#8217;s outlandish optimism was not without its ulterior motive. Then-Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta was in the president&#8217;s firing line, and Mr. Terra was <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/13/brazil-bolsonaro-ally-says-quarantine-fiction/">lobbying to get his job</a>. The congressman had a clear strategy: fully buying into Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s anti-quarantine message and unsubstantiated cheerfulness. On the same day Mr. Terra&#8217;s audio clip leaked, President Bolsonaro told reporters that &#8220;the virus is already leaving [Brazil].&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">VIDEO: Bolsonaro&#39;s response to <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Covid19?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Covid19</a> as deaths pile up <a href="https://t.co/BoaBfWG9NC">pic.twitter.com/BoaBfWG9NC</a></p>&mdash; The Brazilian Report (@BrazilianReport) <a href="https://twitter.com/BrazilianReport/status/1256270801952739328?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 1, 2020</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>In the same message, Mr. Terra said that there was no risk of a collapse in the São Paulo healthcare system. Well, 30 days later, over 85 percent of intensive care beds reserved for Covid-19 patients in Greater São Paulo are filled, and authorities warn that, unless social isolation rates dramatically increase in the next few weeks, a full-scale lockdown will be necessary. Meanwhile, doctors and nurses working in the field hospital on the grounds of the city&#8217;s Pacaembu stadium say the &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/12/health-professionals-in-sao-paulo-say-covid-19-war-has-arrived/">war has arrived</a>&#8221; just now.</p> <p>Despite his background as a physician, Osmar Terra is known for his disregard for science and method, earning him the less-than-flattering moniker &#8220;Osmar Terra Plana,&#8221; or Flat Earth Osmar.</p> <p>Mr. Terra&#8217;s efforts, however, weren&#8217;t enough to get him back into the cabinet, with Mr. Mandetta&#8217;s job going instead to oncologist Nelson Teich. In nearly a month, Mr. Teich has been exactly what his boss wanted: a respected name within the medical community, but with almost no power. Brasília insiders say that Army General Eduardo Paluezzo — the Deputy Health Minister — is the one really calling the shots.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2383844" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2383844/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Quarantine may have avoided a worst-case scenario</h2> <p>President Jair Bolsonaro is bending over backward to <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/17/brazil-coronavirus-deniers-positions-power/">end social isolation measures</a> and reopen the Brazilian economy. Just this week, he signed a <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/05/12/essential-jobs-how-bolsonaro-plans-to-force-brazil-back-to-work/">decree</a> classifying gyms, barbershops, and hair salons as &#8220;essential activities&#8221; — meaning that they can operate even during the strictest quarantines. Days before, Mr. Bolsonaro stormed the Supreme Court, flanked by business owners, in a bid to put pressure on Chief Justice Dias Toffoli to rule against states&#8217; autonomy on social isolation rules&nbsp;— a matter that had already been addressed by the court.</p> <p>But while quarantines are in fact bringing the economy to a halt, they are also avoiding a full-scale nationwide health collapse.&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if some estimates place Brazil&#8217;s real number of infections at 4.2 million, engineer and data scientist Maurício Féo <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyEGb1Osu0k&amp;feature=emb_title">published a video</a> showing that things would be much worse if governors had not followed World Health Organization guidelines. According to him, infection rates in Brazil rose exponentially until total case numbers hit 1,500 people. Then, the virus&#8217; spread became slower, largely thanks to quarantines imposed by local administrations.</p> <p>Mr. Féo drew a comparison between Brazil and the U.S. —&nbsp;where quarantines were only implemented <em>after</em> the Brazilian states were already isolating. As Brazil reached around 79,000 cases on April 29, the U.S. had already exceeded the 735,000 cases mark.</p> <p>“Trust in science,” pleaded Mr. Féo.</p> <h2>Pandemic in Brazil: many numbers, few certainties</h2> <p>In recent weeks, several studies have been published with estimations of how far the Covid-19 pandemic will go in Brazil, in terms of absolute case numbers and deaths. None of them bring good news.</p> <p>One study by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation suggests Brazil does not even know <a href="https://memorias.ioc.fiocruz.br/article/10702/0183-tracking-the-onset-date-of-the-community-spread-of-sars-cov-2-in-western-countries">when Covid-19 arrived in the country</a>. The first official case was <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/26/brazil-may-never-identify-covid-19-patient-zero/">recorded</a> on February 26, but experts used death registries to conclude that the virus may have reached the country 20 days prior.</p> <p>Another study, conducted by the platform <a href="https://ciis.fmrp.usp.br/covid19">Covid-19 Brazil</a>, foresees that more than 20,000 Brazilians will die until May 20 and that the real number of infected people is 16 times higher than the official records.&nbsp;</p> <p>But despite these warnings, many states are relaxing their social isolation, even though their curves have yet to flatten.</p> <p>Santa Catarina is a textbook example of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/08/covid-19-cases-in-santa-catarina-jump-after-early-reopening/">dangers of premature reopening</a>. The number of deaths in the state — which were relatively low — skyrocketed after businesses were allowed to open up again.

 
Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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