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2 million Covid-19 cases: the anatomy of a disaster

. Jul 16, 2020
2 million cases coronavirus

By the time you read this, Brazil will have surpassed the mark of 2 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, making it only the second country in the world to have done so, along with the U.S. Almost five months since Latin America’s largest country recorded its first case of coronavirus, infection numbers are still increasing.

Brazil’s Covid-19 curve has shown no signs of flattening; in fact, the progression of the disease has followed a different dynamic to other majorly affected nations around the world, characterized by rapid increases and subsequent decelerations. Brazil has not seen a Covid-19 peak. Instead, case numbers have continued to grow steadily.

</p> <p>Since the week beginning June 23, the 7-day rolling average of <a href="https://covid.saude.gov.br/" target="_blank" aria-label="undefined (opens in a new tab)" rel="noreferrer noopener">new daily cases</a> has remained largely stable at around 35,000 per day. The plateau is even more defined when it comes to Covid-19 deaths: for the last seven weeks, the 7-day average of deaths stands at 1,000 per day.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641109" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2641109/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641192" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2641192/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>While this suggests the spread of the virus is unlikely to get any worse, 35,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths every day is no reason for celebration.</p> <p>According to Marcelo Gomes, coordinator of the <a href="http://info.gripe.fiocruz.br/" target="_blank" aria-label="undefined (opens in a new tab)" rel="noreferrer noopener">InfoGripe</a> system of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a medical research institute, among the biggest factors for Brazil&#8217;s failure to flatten the Covid-19 curve is the neglect of public administrators to transmit the importance of <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2020/03/23/coronavirus-favela-bolsonaro-image-unemployment/">social isolation</a> measures to the population. &#8220;This is a matter of communication,&#8221; he tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. &#8220;And this is a point on which, unfortunately, we have failed.&#8221;</p> <p>Mr. Gomes explains that <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/02/28/health-minister-mandetta-coronavirus-arrives/">Brazil did mobilize early</a> to contain the virus, but the public was quickly faced with a breakdown in communication. &#8220;We started having crossed wires, we had different authorities with contradictory messages, and this makes it difficult for the public to understand the situation, and to buy into [social isolation measures].&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;The public didn&#8217;t know who to trust,&#8221; he adds. Stressing that this war of contradictory narratives is still going on today. &#8220;Even after everything we&#8217;ve seen in Brazil and abroad, we still have people saying that [the pandemic] is a minor problem.&#8221;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3200314" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3200314/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>2 million cases: understanding the national picture</h2> <p>As we have addressed numerous times on <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, analyzing the Covid-19 spread on a national scale makes it difficult to fully assess the current situation. Brazil is a huge country and its 27 states have each <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/06/10/sao-paulo-rio-reopen-supreme-court-fake-news-petrobras-oil/">followed their own social isolation and reopening plans</a>. As a result, different regions of Brazil find themselves at distinct stages of the epidemic.</p> <p>&#8220;What we&#8217;ve actually had are various waves throughout the country,&#8221; explains Mr. Gomes.  &#8220;Major centers were hit first, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and some places in the North and Northeast [&#8230;], and later the virus spread around the <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/05/30/role-meat-plants-coronavirus-spread-brazil-countryside/">interior of these states</a>.&#8221;</p> <p>As a result, with the decreasing rates in some badly affected cities and the rising spread in the rest of the country, the aggregate figures have leveled out to form the plateau we see in the national tallies.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3200552" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3200552/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>A dreadful pandemic response</h2> <p>Brazil&#8217;s actions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic will go down in history as being among the most incompetent and least effective. While President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the severity of the disease in <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/5/2/21245243/coronavirus-brazil-bolsonaro-response-video" target="_blank" aria-label="undefined (opens in a new tab)" rel="noreferrer noopener">braggadocious public addresses</a>, state governors imposed half-hearted social isolation measures that halted the economy without ever really stymying the spread of the disease.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center"><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> <p>Local governments had the opportunity to enforce strict lockdowns but refused to do so due to concerns over the economy. In the end, they got the worst of both worlds: a paralyzed economy and thousands of Covid-19 deaths.</p> <p>The situation at the federal level was no better. In a <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/05/22/video-exposes-gross-mismanagement-in-bolsonaro-government/">two-hour April 22 cabinet meeting</a> — footage of which was made public in connection with a Supreme Court investigation — President Bolsonaro&#8217;s ministers made hardly any mentions of the coronavirus pandemic, despite having recorded 346 deaths and over 5,000 new cases that day alone.&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Health Ministry made a useful start to the pandemic, releasing prompt and detailed data with then-minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta giving daily informative press conferences. Mr. Mandetta was sacked, however, after butting heads with President Bolsonaro over social isolation measures and antimalarial drug chloroquine, which Mr. Bolsonaro saw as a potential cure for Covid-19, despite a lack of supporting scientific evidence.</p> <p>Reminiscent of what Mr. Gomes tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, Mr. Mandetta left office complaining precisely that the population did not know who they should be believing in with regards to social isolation. While President Bolsonaro pushed for the country to return to normal, the Health Ministry and state governors recommended people to remain at home.</p> <p>Oncologist Nelson Teich was brought into the job as an <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2020/05/16/health-minister-nelson-teich-chose-president-jair-bolsonaro-sisyphus/">empty coat replacement</a>. He soon resigned after less than a month in charge. Two months later, Brazil still has no permanent Health Minister, with Army General Eduardo Pazuello holding the job on an interim basis, despite having no experience in the health field.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p><em>Additional reporting by Rafael Lima</em>

 
Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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