In Coronavirus Versus Brazil, Bolsonaro Stands Almost Alone – Forbes

Brazil’s firebrand president, Jair Bolsonaro, is almost on his own. He has his base, though it is shrinking. It will shrink more if he gets the coronavirus response wrong.

As the AP’s David Biller called it yesterday, he is making literally a life and death gamble.

Like Trump in the U.S., Bolsonaro had downplayed the outbreak early on. His downplay likely came from a deep distrust of the media, who at the time started to report more heavily, and more worrisome about it. Both men saw early coronavirus stories as being used primarily against them, as political talking points, rather than a media’s concern over what’s to come. It’s the only explanation as to why both men, distrusting of the political press, felt their country was safe from the new SARS coronavirus.

But while Trump has taken the pandemic much more seriously over the last several weeks, as recently as last week, Bolsonaro spoke to the nation and said — in his usual machismo — that he is not afraid of catching the disease. If he did, he said, it would just be a “little cold” and he’d be fine. The message immediately became: Bolsonaro calls COVID-19 a “little cold”.

For a man who survived a near-mortal stab wound, and routed an entrenched Workers Party in 2018, he may feel invincible. Perhaps a little too invincible. He has lost some supporters because of this.

Whether he gets them back depends on the weeks ahead as the coronavirus shows no signs of leaving Brazil behind.

Bolsonaro’s official support is thin.

The Supreme Court just sided with states that banned interstate commercial transit, going against Bolsonaro. That means there will be some confusion shipping goods across state lines, if that is not resolved sooner rather than later.

On Saturday, a Federal Judge in Rio banned the spreading of advertising banners that read “Brazil Cannot Stop”. The slogan first appeared on the social media account of Bolsonaro’s son and congressman Flavio Bolsonaro. He is against quarantine except for the elderly and people with a higher risk of dying if they caught the virus. He was organizing supporters of his father to protest against quarantine measures, potentially creating a superspreader event for the deadly coronavirus.

Brazilians are well-traveled and tuned into the world. They know what is going on in the U.S. and Europe. They know this virus is no figment of the anti-Bolsonaro media’s imagination. It’s in Brazil. Like elsewhere, it’s spreading like wildfire.

Having seen the outbreak go from a couple dozen cases a month ago in Italy to over 92,000 in just four weeks with a death toll of 10,023 as of Saturday evening, Brazilians know that their days are numbered.

The most infected nation in Latin America, the first cases of the new SARS coronavirus was first reported by Brazilians returning from Italy. Their history with the virus is closely linked to Italy.

Today, Brazil has nearly 4,000 cases, of which only six have recovered and 111 people have died after contracting the COVID-19 disease caused by the new SARS.

Some cities are taking matters into their own hands, mandating social distancing policies and travel restrictions. Rio beaches are closed, an unprecedented move by officials there.

As I wrote on March 5 here, Brazil was only a few hundred cases of the coronavirus away from putting a lid on its economic recovery, and returning to the days of political crisis and uncertainty.

A thousand infected persons later…

Brazil: Imagining A Worse Case Scenario

Forbes Kenneth Rapoza

While Bolsonaro has assembled a team of private sector business leaders who are supposed to tackle the problem, similar to what President Trump has done in the U.S., the Brazil economy is in retreat regardless.

In equity markets, Brazil is the worst of the BRICS.

The MSCI Brazil Index has lost nearly 50% year-to-date. It is the worst performer in Latin America. Even basket case Argentina has beaten in, based on the MSCI Argentina’s performance.

Barclays Capital is forecasting a technical recession — back to back quarters of negative growth. In the first quarter, Brazil’s GDP likely contracted by 1.1%. The second quarter will be worse. Barclays sees that contracting by 14%.

Yes, the third quarter will see a bounce, if all goes well with mitigation efforts in Brazil to “flatten the curve” of new infections. But that will not be enough to make up for the havoc this pandemic is causing.

Barclays thinks Brazil’s GDP growth rate ends the year at -0.5% in their current base case scenario.

Under quarantine in parts of the country, the service sector industry is in trouble. Travel and tourism is in even more trouble. Workers are being furloughed, so far with pay.

If Brazil follows in the footsteps of Italy and Spain, it will likely hit 8,000 infections by the end of this week without a “whole of government, whole of country” approach that includes social distancing.

Brazil would need to adopt the South Korea model of massive testing, quarantining sick individuals and those they’ve come in touch with in order to slow the spread.

Do not count on the warm weather killing the virus. Besides, winter is coming in south Brazil.

The virus has been politicized in Brazil since the first person tested positive for it last month.

A deluge of messages circulating over Brazil’s WhatsApp and Facebook have sewn greater doubt over the warnings from Bolsonaro’s own public health officials. 

“The president, who commands the entire executive branch, has essentially launched a public relations war against the rest of his own government, adding to the war he’d already been waging on the Congress that began weeks earlier, and against the media which has lasted since before he was elected,” says Kevin Ivers, vice president for Latin America at political risk firm DCI Group in Washington, D.C.

“In picking this particular fight, he also found himself at odds with increasingly terrified middle class voters throughout the country’s southern third, many of whom live in urban areas that went through spasms of panic this week,” says Ivers about Brazil’s wealthiest states from Sao Paulo on south to the Uruguay border. 

Those states voted for Bolsonaro in large margins in 2018. It is home to the people with the highest education levels in the country. They have close friends or family members living in the United States, Spain, Italy and the UK. They knew it wasn’t just another type of flu.

Bolsonaro’s disconnect with the south could be irreparable if cases and deaths begin to grow exponentially.  Unlike here at home, where the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, is working along side President Trump, with Trump all-in on support for Cuomo, Sao Paulo’s governor has taken a different approach. Joao Doria, who has presidential ambitions, has set himself up to be the alternative leader to Bolsonaro in fighting the onslaught of COVID-19.

Bolsonaro is going to need a Cuomo — someone who can attest that the Bolsonaro Administration is taking this seriously, and acting on their behalf. They don’t have to be besties.

But just like elsewhere in the world, this is a really bad time to play party politics with the opposition in order to wound them for when the pandemic is over. It’s likely a waste of precious time.

If the pandemic hits Brazil hard, it will be the first emerging market after China to get sick from COVID-19. Other countries in southeast Asia have the virus spreading there, too, but they don’t have Brazil’s infection rate.

If Bolsonaro loses the support of the south at a time when the economy is deteriorating, it could weaken public support for his agenda in a worse case scenario.

Bolsonaro is basically a man alone. Because of this, he needs the strong support of the public to keep his batteries charged.

If he comes out of this relatively unscathed, it will be a big boost for him and markets will see him as a strong leader. If not, it sets the table for Congress to disrupt and delay the policies business leaders and investors are hoping for. Bolsonaro still has three years left as president.

Brazil’s economy is not going to be as strong as people would have liked. But that won’t be as much a surprise. At this point, no major economy is going to get away from catching COVID-19. 

Source: https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMibWh0dHBzOi8vd3d3LmZvcmJlcy5jb20vc2l0ZXMva2VucmFwb3phLzIwMjAvMDMvMjkvaW4tY29yb25hdmlydXMtdmVyc3VzLWJyYXppbC1ib2xzb25hcm8tc3RhbmRzLWFsbW9zdC1hbG9uZS_SAXFodHRwczovL3d3dy5mb3JiZXMuY29tL3NpdGVzL2tlbnJhcG96YS8yMDIwLzAzLzI5L2luLWNvcm9uYXZpcnVzLXZlcnN1cy1icmF6aWwtYm9sc29uYXJvLXN0YW5kcy1hbG1vc3QtYWxvbmUvYW1wLw?oc=5

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