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Sensemaker: Covid in Brazil

Friday 5 March 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Pope Francis began a four-day trip to Iraq.
  • Britain’s Conservatives opened up a 13-point poll lead over Labour.
  • Priti Patel remained in post as UK home secretary despite payment of a £340,000 settlement to a civil servant who accused her of bullying, while Buckingham Palace launched an investigation into bullying claims levelled at Meghan Markle. 

Covid in Brazil

A year into the pandemic, the death rate in Brazil has never been higher. Its cities are incubating a variant that could resist vaccines and spread around the world. President Jair Bolsonaro’s response: “Stop this fussing and whining. How long will you keep crying? We have to face the problems.”

Bolsonaro’s critics say facing the problems is exactly what he hasn’t been doing. That has fallen to state leaders acting against his government; to local agencies and media trying to counteract his misinformation; and now to researchers behind an exhaustive audit of obstruction and propaganda that they say amount to crimes against humanity. 

The audit by the Centre for Research and Studies in Public Health Law at the University of Sao Paulo categorises Bolsonaro’s efforts to sabotage a rational response to Covid under three headings:

  • Federal acts and vetoes – including the cancellation of compensation payments to healthcare workers and vetoes against mask mandates, special Covid protection for indigenous communities and fines for businesses that fail to provide hand sanitizer.
  • Acts of obstruction against state and municipal governments – including attempts to seize ventilators from the city of Recife and needles and syringes from the state of Sao Paulo, and to insist on the use of chloroquine against Covid in Manaus despite the absence of evidence that it works.
  • Propaganda – including claims by Bolsonaro that the pandemic was an act of “bacteriological war” and that he was “living proof” that chloroquine worked.

The audit’s authors say Bolsonaro could have prevented many if not most of Brazil’s Covid deaths but instead promoted “an institutional strategy to spread the virus” to achieve herd immunity and restart the economy.

At least three requests have been sent to the International Criminal Court to investigate his government for crimes against humanity. In the meantime the governor of Sao Paulo has resorted to English-language appeals for help against “the coronavirus and Bolsonaro virus”.  

The risk for the rest of the world is of more mutations as the virus continues to spread – and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects rising case numbers in Brazil at least until the last week of this month. Brazil’s death toll is at 261,188 and counting.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

One per cent
After a year of risking their lives for the rest of us, NHS staff in England have been offered a one per cent pay rise. At the inflation rate forecast for the rest of this year that amounts to a real-terms cut and, say their unions, a kick in the teeth. The context is an overall £30 billion reduction in healthcare budgets for the next financial year compared with this one, based on the assumption the pandemic will exit stage left thanks to the rapid vaccine rollout. Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that £30 billion number is implausibly low. The pay offer is less than a twelfth of what nurses’ unions were demanding. Let’s remember the estimate that perhaps a half of frontline healthcare workers are already suffering from PTSD. It will be interesting to see how NHS staff retention rates hold up when this is “over”. 


New things technology, science, engineering

A rival for Google 
At last there’s a player in the online ad business not being ground into submission or oblivion by Google. Its name is The Trade Desk, and the WSJ has an in-depth report on how it’s thrived during the pandemic by focusing on selling ads alongside audio and streaming content “where Google hadn’t already cornered the market”. The company reported revenues of $836 million last year and is valued at $30 billion, which – if proof were needed that the future is a different place – is more than the world’s two biggest ad agency groups combined. Google, by the way, still controls five times as much of The Trade Desk’s niche market as The Trade Desk does. It’s just that, unusually, this minnow’s growing. How long until it’s eaten?


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Mammoth opportunity
“Want a full time biotech job to revive the Woolly Mammoth and eventually restore the species to the northern wild?” That’s the Twitter teaser for a job ad placed by Revive & Restore, a US-based “mission to enhance biodiversity through the genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species”. Salary: $75k plus $25k for research materials. This seems to be a real job for a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School. Wow. The last big effort to revive the mammoth ended in a soggy heap of defrosted hair in northern Siberia – but all power to Revive & Restore. Apparently it helps preserve permafrost if you have plenty of megafauna trampling on it.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Covid origin sceptics
A mainly French group of scientists has signed an open letter demanding a new and properly independent investigation of the origins of Covid. The letter is in response to the recent month-long visit to Wuhan and environs by a WHO delegation that was strictly monitored by its Chinese hosts throughout and had to take Chinese data on trust rather than generate its own. The delegation has just scrapped its interim report. The letter takes particular aim at delegation members who appear to have made up their minds in advance in favour of the “zoonosis” theory that the virus crossed over from animals to humans in the wild – and to have ruled out the “lab leak” theory promoted without supporting evidence by then-President Trump. China’s foreign ministry said after the visit that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” but the delegation’s leader, Peter Ben Embarek, has since said it’s “definitely not off the table”. One of the letter’s signatories, Filippa Lentzos of King’s College London, told Tortoise last year that respectable scientists were reluctant to examine the lab leak theory closely for fear of being associated with Trump.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Head case
The Six Nations rugby championship takes a break this weekend, but MPs will be busy hearing evidence about the links between sport and brain injury for the first time. In an inquiry convening next Tuesday, the UK’s parliamentary committee on ‘Concussion in sport‘ will look at research linking contact sport to dementia, the role of governing bodies in protecting players from long-term harm, and how youth sport will need to adapt to keep children safe. Although legislation is some way off, and the six nations will surely take to the pitch again next weekend, rugby players and their sport have never looked so vulnerable. 

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell
@GWhittell

Luke Gbedemah
@LukeGbedemah

Photographs Getty Images

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