GP Insights # 370, 13 June 2020
Brazil has become the new epicentre of the virus after. Brazil is now the world's second-highest country in both the number of cases and the death toll from the coronavirus.
As of 13 June, up to 8,30,000 cases were confirmed in Brazil with 25,982 new cases and 41,901 deaths. As the country is moving towards easing quarantine restrictions, Brazil's Health Ministry has reported high death rates throughout this week as the President of the country was instead seen taking part in rallies that supported the military rule.
What is the background?
First, the misinformation on data relating to COVID cases within Brazil. Since the early weeks of April, there have been accusations against Brazil's health department of downplaying the intensity of the outbreak by hiding the data and from 8 June, the country has reported 1,36,000 new infections. The reported numbers could be much higher, owing to insufficient testing. Experts say that the outbreak is weeks away from its peak in Brazil and the hospital systems are already inching towards a collapse.
Second, the President's muscular response towards the threat, and now a strategy to strangle the opposition. President Bolsonaro was seen playing down the pandemic impacts by calling it a "little flu" in his statements on TV wherein he was seen accusing the media of creating hysteria over the pandemic. Now, in an effort to control any voice of opposition from the Congress and the Supreme Court, Bolsonaro set a political statement by being involved in rallies with protesters who were calling for the shutdown of the legislature and the court. Bolsonaro, along with his sons, and his allies, has gone to the extent of threatening to use military intervention against those institutions that might impede his rule.
Third, corruption and lack of systemic transparency. Two powerful and popular officials, from the justice and health department, have resigned from the President's cabinet. Corruption, lack of transparency and attempts by Bolsonaro to influence the federal police to protect political allies have defeated any attempts to control the spread of the pandemic in the initial stage. The lack of transparency highlights the failures of the health ministry to not only release the data on time, but it comes at the time when the country is far from flattening the curve.
What does it mean?
With Bolsonaro's focus on strengthening his power, the COVID-19 situation in Brazil is expected to get worse. This, coupled with the failure of institutions and the collapse of the economy might be disastrous for the largest democracy in Latin America. Following the failures and the mistrust, the fear of impeachment has pushed Bolsonaro to encourage the call for military rule, which is unlikely. However, this has led to a divide in the opinions within society.