Brazil Daily

Brazil’s controversial foreign minister to face chop if Biden wins

Today, how a Biden win in the U.S. could cost Brazil’s Foreign Minister his job.. The plans to vaccinate Brazilians against Covid-19 in January. And what you need to know about Brazil’s municipal races.

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Biden win could lead to cabinet reshuffle in Brazil

The U.S. presidential election will take place in 18 days — but more than 15 million Americans have already voted early. [restricted]And the odds suggest that former Vice President Joe Biden will unseat Donald Trump (per FiveThirtyEight’s model, Mr. Biden has an 87-percent chance to win the electoral college). And while a Biden win shouldn’t substantially alter the nature of Brazil-U.S.’ never-too-hot-never-too-cold relations, it could lead to changes in the Jair Bolsonaro cabinet.

  • According to Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares, the Brazilian president’s newfound allies — a group of ideology-free parties known as the “Big Center” — want to use the U.S. election as a pretext to bin Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, which they have reportedly been looking forward to for some time.
  • Mr. Araújo is known for his anti-globalist, Sinophobic views. He also wrote once that Donald Trump is the West’s hope for salvation against “Stalin’s or Mao’s or Pol Pot’s henchmen.” He has become a nuisance for the Brazilian political establishment, in particular those defending the interests of agribusiness — who see China as their best client, not an existential threat.
  • His latest controversy involved hosting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a visit to the Venezuelan border, just weeks before the U.S. election. The Foreign Minister was accused of jeopardizing future relations with a potential future Biden administration

Scapegoat. Mr. Araújo is accused by career diplomats of undermining centuries of diplomatic tradition in less than two years. But while he has become a lightning rod for criticism, the minister is following the tone set by the president himself — who has made countless displays of sycophancy towards Donald Trump and hostility towards China.

Why it matters. Ernesto Araújo is arguably the cabinet member who is the most loyal to the Bolsonaro family — and champions the president’s positions unapologetically.

  • Getting rid of Mr. Araújo would be yet another example of Mr. Bolsonaro breaking with Bolsonarism — in a movement towards moderation (at least in tone) to ensure stability to the administration. Those are calculated moves by a president who has proved to be much savvier than given credit for: while remaining firmly on the right wing, he is attempting to gain ground among less radical supporters, while knowing he remains the best (perhaps only) option for hardcore far-right voters.

You should listen: Explaining Brazil #117: Biden or Trump, what changes for Brazil?

Government announces Covid-19 vaccine plan for January

The Brazilian Health Ministry presented its 2021 National Immunizations Program on Thursday, which forecasts distributing a coronavirus vaccine as early as January 2021. The first phase of the plan is to make 15 million doses available, to be used on 7 percent of the population.

  • While four potential vaccines are being tested in Brazil, only one — being developed by the University of Oxford and British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca — made it onto the national vaccine calendar. The government believes trials of that vaccine will be complete by November.
  • The ministry’s decision not to include the potential vaccine being developed by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech in partnership with the São Paulo state government came across as puzzling. A council of state health officials asked, in a letter, for the government to reconsider.

Why it matters. The Health Ministry’s move reignites fears that President Jair Bolsonaro will turn the coronavirus vaccine into a new political war — as he aims to score points on São Paulo Governor João Doria, one of his fiercest political rivals.

Anti-vaxxer? Polls show Brazilians are eager to get a vaccine — and many want immunization to be mandatory. However, Mr. Bolsonaro has leaned in the opposite direction, even voicing some arguments used by anti-vaxxer movements, such as individual freedoms. In August, he said “nobody can force anybody to take a vaccine.” 

  • Moreover, experts fear the president’s supporters could become overly skeptical of what they call “the Chinese vaccine” and refuse immunization. A new poll conducted by Brazilian and Canadian universities show that only 54 percent of government supporters want to take a vaccine — versus 79 percent among detractors.

Election 2020 snapshot

Brazil’s municipal elections will take place in exactly 30 days’ time. This is what you need to know:

  • Ads. This week marked the beginning of political ads on television and radio — which, with millions of people still staying home, gained renewed importance in 2020. Candidates have the right to free airtime, but it is distributed between all political parties, in proportion with the number of seats the party holds in their respective state legislatures.
  • São Paulo. Incumbent Bruno Covas — who leads a six-party coalition — monopolizes 40 percent of airtime in São Paulo, and it has worked to his advantage. The latest poll showed him virtually tied with the frontrunner, Congressman Celso Russomano (22 and 25 percent of votes, respectively). More importantly, Mr. Covas lowered his rejection rates by 8 points — to 23 percent.
  • Leftist debacle. The Workers’ Party has won the race for São Paulo City Hall three times since Brazil’s return to democracy — no small feat, given the city’s more conservative leaning. However, the party continues its downfall, which started in 2016. Candidate Jilmar Tatto, a Lula loyalist, is unknown to most voters and polls at just 1 percent. Many in the party’s top brass have said he should drop out and endorse far-left candidate Guilherme Boulos, who is polling third with 10 percent.
  • Xenophobia as a platform. Two mayoral candidates in the Roraima state capital of Boa Vista, in Brazil’s North, are facing charges of inciting racism. Federal prosecutors acted after the candidates made discrimination against Venezuelan migrants the cornerstone of their campaigns. One used the slogan: “Venezuelans will not have privileges,” while the other promises to “limit Venezuelans’ access to healthcare and education.” Roraima has received an inflow of Venezuelan migrants in recent years, as they flee their country’s full-scale socioeconomic collapse.

What else you need to know today

  • Cabinet. Communications Minister Fábio Faria has tested positive for Covid-19, but has only shown mild symptoms and will continue to work remotely. Mr. Faria took office in June following a cabinet reshuffle, and has quickly become one of the president’s most influential advisors, helping to tame his demeanor and abandon the constant attacks against Congress and the Supreme Court.
  • Bounceback. The São Paulo state government is set to announce its economic recovery plan today, expected to rely heavily on privatizations — something Governor João Doria supported long before the pandemic. Another pillar of the plan will be an austerity package approved by the state legislature, which cuts back on tax breaks and creates a voluntary redundancy program to axe 5,000 civil servant positions.  
  • Top 5 worldwide. After confirming over 15,000 new coronavirus infections and 350 deaths, Argentina became the country with the fifth-highest number of cases in the world, while its death tally is 12th-largest. Argentina was one of the first Latin American countries to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with the government placing the country under lockdown by March 20 — even before European countries such as Germany. Massive inequality and the prevalence of informal labor, however, made it impossible to fully enforce restrictive measures. 
  • Butt-gate. Senator Chico Rodrigues — caught stashing BRL 30,000 “between his buttocks,” according to the Federal Police — was relieved from his duties as the government’s deputy whip. Moreover, the Supreme Court ordered his 90-day suspension from the Senate, a decision that must be approved by his peers before being enforced. But Mr. Rodrigues seems to be safe from impeachment, at least for now, as the Senate’s Ethics Committee (of which the senator is a member, ironically) is not currently holding in-person sittings.
  • Spread. Only eight of Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities have not recorded a single Covid-19 case — and none of them have more than 7,000 inhabitants. So far, Brazil has registered 5.17 million infections and 152,460 deaths. There are at least 93 potential cases of reinfection being analyzed in the country.[/restricted]

‘Fake vaccine’ being sold on outskirts of Rio de Janeiro

The Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) has launched an investigation after reports that a fake Covid-19 vaccine is being sold in Niterói, which neighbors Rio de Janeiro. 

“Complaints were presented on September 25, and we forwarded them to the Federal Police on the very same day,” said Anvisa in a statement.

According to the regulatory body, one unnamed company is selling a product labeled as that being developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford. This potential vaccine — which is still undergoing phase-three trials in several countries, including Brazil — is expected to be one of the first to hit the market, but that is not the case yet.

Brazil is the second-most eager country for receiving a Covid-19 vaccine according to a September poll by Ipsos-Mori — 88 percent of people would take it as soon as it is available. 

As we showed in our October 13 Weekly Report, over 70 percent of people in four major urban centers (São Paulo, Rio, Belo Horizonte, and Recife) even want a vaccine against the coronavirus to be made mandatory. However, enthusiasm for the vaccine is lower among wealthier classes. President Jair Bolsonaro has said on multiple occasions that “nobody can force anybody” to receive immunization.

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Regulators to fast-track Covid-19 vaccine registration

Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) granted a request by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to fast-track the clearance process for its potential Covid-19 vaccine. The decision means that the agency will have access to AstraZeneca’s data as it becomes available, which would save time in the process of getting the vaccine to market — when and if it is proven effective and safe.

The request is a procedure created specifically for emergency situations. However, Anvisa has said it won’t lower its level of scrutiny when analyzing data.

Anvisa says there are currently six potential vaccines being tested in Brazil, notably one produced by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, in partnership with São Paulo’s Butantan Institute — which could be available as soon as December, according to São Paulo Governor João Doria.

The agency’s General Manager for Medicines and Biological Products, Gustavo Mendes Lima Santos, said earlier in the week that Anvisa could change its efficacy criteria for the coronavirus vaccine — allowing immunizations with a 50-percent efficacy threshold. The agency’s current standard is 70 percent.

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Novavax begins phase three Covid-19 vaccine trials

American pharmaceutical firm Novavax began phase three trials of its NVX-CoV22373 Covid-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom, in partnership with the British government, the British Department of Health and Social Care, and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The testing task force will immunize over 10,000 people aged between 18 and 84 — with or without pre-existing conditions — in the following six weeks. 

This part of the research intends to have at least 25 percent of participants aged 65 and over, as well as to prioritize the groups most affected by the disease, the so-called risk group, but also social minorities, including racial and ethnic groups. Half of the patients attending the study will receive two intramuscular injections of the vaccine, which will be administered 21 days apart, while the other half will be submitted to a placebo.

According to the chairman of Novavax’s Research and Development Department, Gregory M. Glenn, the Covid-19 transmission in the UK is considered to be at a “high and continuous” level. Phase 3 of the vaccine’s clinical trial will provide “a short-term view” of the medicine’s effectiveness. Novavax is one of the world’s top companies in the so-called ‘2020 vaccine race,’ which led the firm to expand the vaccine’s production capacity to 2 billion doses annually

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Numbers of the week: Sep. 26, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: Argentina’s GDP, coronavirus figures, Bolsonaro’s approval rating. And more.

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19-percent GDP slump in Argentina

Argentina’s official statistics agency (Indec) [restricted]says the country’s GDP dropped 19.1 percent in Q2 2020 when compared to the same period in 2019. From Q1 2020, the quarterly contraction reached 16.2 percent — slightly better than most forecasts. The year-on-year change for Q2 2020 was even worse than the 2002 crisis, when Argentina faced one of its most dire economic moments in recent history, with five different presidents taking office in a matter of just two weeks. At that time, quarterly GDP shrank by 16.3 percent when compared to the previous year. 

The Argentinian crisis is mainly motivated by the country’s never-ending quarantine — which started back in March.

7 players infected

This week, Rio de Janeiro-based club Flamengo became the textbook example of the dangers of a rushed return to football amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Most South American countries remain unable to control the coronavirus spread — and yet, the region’s football confederation Conmebol has resumed the Copa Libertadores continental club tournament. The confederation said it had created a “mobile bubble” for teams, with charter flights and special hotel wings to isolate squads from contamination. Just a week after Libertadores action restarted, the weaknesses of the system were exposed.

Seven Flamengo players — including many in the starting lineup — tested positive for the coronavirus just prior to a match against Ecuadorian side Barcelona, in Guayaquil. But even that wasn’t enough for Conmebol to postpone the game. After Flamengo’s 2-1 win, the Barcelona squad was placed in quarantine to monitor possible contaminations.

40-percent approval

A new poll showed that 40 percent of Brazilian voters believe President Jair Bolsonaro is doing a “good or great” job — a bump of 11 percentage points when compared to his approval ratings at the end of last year. As we explained in our September 25 Daily Briefing, this rise is mainly linked to the government-issued coronavirus emergency salary — the monthly value of which has since been halved.

9 cases after Chief Justice inauguration ceremony

Supreme Court Justice Cármen Lúcia has tested positive for the coronavirus, making her the ninth infected person who attended the inauguration of Chief Justice Luiz Fux. But while the inauguration ceremony is being used as a timestamp for these infections, there were multiple occasions during which the spread might have occurred. One was a massive dinner party hosted by House Speaker Rodrigo Maia the day before.

BRL 1 billion in remote work savings

Public servants have been costing less to the federal government’s coffers: during the week, the Economy Ministry reported that the government saved about BRL 1.02 billion with public servants working remotely from April to August. Of those savings, BRL 859 million is related to cost expenses (such as water and electric bills and travel expenses) and other BRL 161 million to the servants’ personal aides. According to the Economy Ministry, the amount saved in those expenses can be used to “serve the population.” At least 360,000 servants (especially from public universities and federal institutes) are currently working from home, 62 percent of the federal government’s workforce.

From 15,000 to 5 million

Businessman Filipe Sabará, who intends on running for São Paulo Mayor this year, is facing heat after an eye-catching mistake in his income declaration to electoral authorities. On September 18, Mr. Sabará said he owned BRL 15,686 in assets (USD 2,830). Two days later, he changed his net worth to nearly BRL 5 million.

Mr. Sabará said the first statement was based on his tax returns, which consider the social capital of his company at BRL 11,111. The candidate claims to having later decided to change the figures to reflect the actual market value of his company — roughly BRL 7 million. He is also the heir of the Sabará Group — a company with a net worth of BRL 200 million.

His party, the libertarian group Partido Novo, suspended Mr. Sabará’s candidacy for undisclosed reasons. Besides the messy net worth statements, he was criticized for praising former São Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf. During the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Maluf became so associated with corruption that his name became a verb. “To Maluf” was to steal public money. In 2014, he was called “Mr. Kickback” by Transparency International.

10 states beat MMR coverage target

According to a report by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), called “Brazil in numbers,” in 2019, coverage of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) exceeded the Health Ministry’s goals in ten states, with Mato Grosso do Sul (101.23%), Alagoas (101.18%), Rondônia (100.5%), Paraíba (98.07%), and Ceará (97.75%) topping the list. 

However, when looking at the national levels, MMR coverage is still only at 88.33 percent, 6.67 points below the 95-percent target set by the Health Ministry. Last year, before the pandemic, measles became a pressing public health issue in Brazil: according to the 2020 Bulletin of Epidemiological Surveillance of Measles, the virus was actively circulating in ten states. In 2019, between September and November 23, 15 people died from measles infections. Confirmed cases exceeded 13,000.[/restricted]


After encouraging trial results, São Paulo Governor pushes for vaccine in December

According to São Paulo authorities, phase-3 trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine produced by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech have proven to be safe. The development of the so-called CoronaVac is being conducted in partnership with São Paulo’s Butantan Biological Institute — and the state could receive as many as 60 million doses by February 2021.

Butantan chief Dimas Covas and a representative from the Chinese company said the vaccine had no adverse effects in 94.7 percent of the 50,000 volunteers. According to them, only 0.03 percent of patients felt side effects such as a lack of appetite, migraines, fatigue, and high fever.

“These results prove that the CoronaVac is extremely safe,” said Governor João Doria — who added that vaccination could start as early as mid-December.

The Chinese potential vaccine is currently being tested in ten countries. In Brazil, 5,600 out of 9,000 volunteers in 12 research centers have already received at least one of two doses. If the results are positive, the São Paulo state government may request authorization from federal sanitary authorities to produce and distribute the vaccine.

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Over 60 countries commit to COVAX initiative; Brazil not among them

The World Health Organization has released a list of 64 countries — representing nearly two-thirds of the global population — which have committed to the COVAX Facility, a worldwide initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure future Covid-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live. These 64 members of the Facility will be joined by 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines.

Brazil, however, has only signed a non-binding confirmation of intent to participate in the COVAX Facility, and asked for more time to evaluate whether or not to help finance the initiative. So far, South America is represented by Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Suriname.

Meanwhile, three major Latin American nations (Brazil, Mexico, and Chile) have yet to fully commit.

The Brazilian government said it needs more information on COVAX Facility’s regulatory framework and logistics plans. “Those definitions are particularly important to a continental country such as Brazil,” said the administration’s press secretary.

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Coronavirus vaccine trials advance in Brasília

The University of Brasilia announced that it is still seeking volunteers for trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech. Researchers say, however, that only healthcare professionals who have been exposed to the virus will be accepted.

According to Gustavo Romero, who coordinates the trials in Brasília, “no adverse reactions have been observed so far.” Mr. Romero and his team work under the umbrella of São Paulo’s Butantan Biological Institute.

Brazil still undecided about Covid-19 vaccine alliance

Meanwhile, the Brazilian government remains on the fence about whether or not to join the COVAX Facility, a global Covid-19 vaccine allocation plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO). The deadline for an answer ends today — but the Health Minister has asked for more time. 

“The government is carefully studying Brazil’s participation in the COVAX Facility, an unprecedented initiative that aims at the acquisition of vaccines among at least nine options under clinical analysis. Brazil, like other countries, continues to negotiate with the Global Vaccination Alliance (GAVI) for a deadline extension and also to confirm Brazil’s participation,” the administration said in a statement.

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São Paulo vaccine factory expansion to start in November

The expansion of Butantan Biological Institute’s Covid-19 vaccine factory is on schedule: construction will start in November, São Paulo Governor João Doria announced on Monday. Mr. Doria also expressed that the project will cost around BRL 160 million, of which BRL 97 million (more than 60 percent) has already been raised in a state partnership with the private sector. However, the investment won’t be used for the creation of a new research facility, but to offer a new, modern structure to the existing institute, which is part of the University of São Paulo (USP)

The race for a vaccine

The CoronaVac, a vaccine developed alongside the Chinese laboratory Sinovac Biotech, should be delivered in H2 2021. The new structure expected in the Butantan Institutecould produce up to 100 million doses of the medicine per year, including other types of vaccines for other future medical campaigns. 

The director of the Institute, Dimas Covas, said the facility should be completed by the end of 2021, allowing the site to operate “at full capacity” in 2022.

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Brazil Daily

Congress horse-trades while Brazil expects “multiple death waves”

Today, we talk about the long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Power struggles in Congress. And 5G in Brazil.

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Government expects “multiple death waves” following coronavirus

Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said on Thursday [restricted]that Brazil is set to face four death waves related to the coronavirus pandemic. Besides the casualties directly caused by the virus, many others will die as a result of the economic impacts caused by the coronavirus crisis. To add to this disaster, millions of people have halted their treatments for other illnesses (like cancer or AIDS) as they avoided health units due to fears of Covid-19 contamination. Mr. Pazuello also said the government expects an uptake in suicides and cases of fatal domestic violence, as the mental health effects of the crisis also take their toll on Brazilians.

Why it matters. The coronavirus’ impacts on Brazil will outlast the pandemic in years and could fracture the social fabric of the country — which will emerge poorer and more unequal. Not to mention the trauma caused by the single deadliest event in Brazilian history (barring colonization and slavery, atrocities which took place over centuries).

Vaccines. The Brazilian government still hasn’t decided whether or not to join the COVAX Facility, a global Covid-19 vaccine allocation plan co-led by the World Health Organization. “If we opt for membership, Brazil could be the biggest contributor,” said Mr. Pazuello.

  • President Jair Bolsonaro is seemingly trying to spark an anti-vaccine movement in Brazil. Over the past few days, he has defended people’s freedom not to be vaccinated on multiple occasions. 
  • An Ipsos-Mori poll showed that 88 percent of Brazilians say they would take a coronavirus vaccine as soon as one is available — which could suggest an anti-vax movement has very limited reach in Brazil. But a study published in medical journal The Lancet just yesterday shows that confidence in vaccines may be waning in the country.

Civil service reform: quid pro quo

Last week, the Jair Bolsonaro administration presented Congress with its administrative reform proposal — an overhaul of civil service in the country, meant to streamline it and reduce the costs of salaries and pensions. But a reform of this magnitude is not an easy sell to make to lawmakers — especially in an election year. House Speaker Rodrigo Maia and Senate President Davi Alcolumbre know this, and will use the reform as a bargaining chip to advance their own political goals, Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares explains.

  • Messrs. Maia and Alcolumbre are pushing for a change in the Constitution that would grant both an additional two-year term leading their respective congressional chambers. They want the government to support a constitutional amendment allowing them to remain in office.

Why it matters. The House Speaker and the Senate President have significant powers to set the agenda for Brazil’s legislature, including deciding which projects get voted on. They can be a president’s best ally — or worst enemy. The Speaker also has the power to make or break presidents–– as the only person who can initiate impeachment proceedings against a president.

Emergency salary. The administrative reform is not the only bargaining chip in play: there is also the matter of the coronavirus emergency salary. Through a provisional decree, President Jair Bolsonaro halved the benefit from BRL 600 to 300 (USD 112 to 56). However, the decree needs to be confirmed by lawmakers within 120 days before it expires.

  • The administration actually wants the decree to expire, because it knows there is a major risk Congress will vote for keeping the benefit at BRL 600 — which is much more than the government can afford. Whether or not the matter goes to a vote depends on Messrs. Maia and Alcolumbre.
  • Besides the financial part of the issue, the decision on the emergency salary will have profound effects on Brazilians. As yesterday’s Daily Briefing showed, Brazil’s poorest 10 percent is expected to lose 44 percent of its current income after the 50-percent cut in payments. When the grant ends — which is expected to happen after December — it will drop to 77 percent.

Tug of war. One of the obstacles Mr. Maia faces for a fourth consecutive two-year term as Speaker is the sheer number of candidates trying to succeed him. The list includes Arthur Lira, from the Northeastern state of Alagoas, one of the leaders of the group known as the “Big Center,” a loose coalition of conservative parties which have recently become much closer to the government. Mr. Lira has the strong support of President Bolsonaro.

Alternative. If a compromise with the government becomes impossible, Messrs. Maia and Alcolumbre could get their way in the Supreme Court — which is set to rule on the matter in the coming weeks or months.

  • The heads of Brazil’s legislature have been heralded as “the adults in the rooms” who tame President Bolsonaro’s wildest impulses. This argument has become in Brazil something of a carte blanche for them to bend the rules to their self-interest, providing the justification is to “counter Jair Bolsonaro.”

5G in “April or May 2021,” says government

Communications Minister Fábio Faria said during an interview that the auction of 5G frequencies in Brazil will “definitely happen between April and May 2021.” 

Why it matters. According to the U.S. Senate Republican Committee, “the country that leads the world in the adoption of 5G technology will have a distinct technological, economic, and national security advantage over other countries.” So far in Brazil, 5G technology has only been rolled out in limited areas and using spectrums of older technologies, such as 4G.

Huawei. About a possible ban of Chinese manufacturer Huawei in Brazil — accused by the U.S. of handing over customer data to the Chinese government — Mr. Faria said a decision on this matter would come only from President Jair Bolsonaro.

  • Brazil has shown increased hostility towards Beijing recently, and has adopted an unequivocal pro-U.S. stance in all trade matters. But a decision on Huawei has yet to be made.

Coverage. The pandemic has accelerated the expansion of internet coverage in Brazil. Operators have now set up 4G networks in 408 new municipalities, an 8.9 percent increase over the 12 months. Now, 4G is available in 4,997 of the country’s 5,570 municipalities.

What else you need to know today

  • Supreme Court. Luiz Fux took office as Brazil’s Chief Justice — a position he holds for the next two years. In his inaugural address, he defended Operation Car Wash and said a harmonious relationship with the other branches of government shouldn’t be mistaken for submission — taking a shot at his predecessor, Justice Dias Toffoli, who was accused of bending over backwards to please President Jair Bolsonaro. But Chief Justice Fux has failed to show a clear path forward to restore the court’s prestige, its reputation is currently at an all-time low due to its inconsistency in interpreting the law and constant overstepping of its boundaries.
  • Cannabidiols. The Health Minister said medicines based on cannabidiols could be included in the list of drugs provided by Brazil’s public healthcare system as early as February 2021. Interim Minister Eduardo Pazuello said the government will not oppose the move.
  • Aviation. A U.S. bankruptcy judge denied a USD 2.45-billion bankruptcy loan to Chilean-Brazilian carrier Latam Airlines, Latin America’s biggest airline. The proposal consisted of a USD 1.3-billion loan from asset management firm Oaktree Capital and a USD 900-million convertible loan from key shareholders. The court found the convertible loan would amount to “improper” treatment of other shareholders. The denial is a major setback to Latam, who is carrying USD 18-billion debt and desperately needs short-term liquidity.
  • IDB. Mexico and Argentina failed in their attempt to postpone the election of the new head of the Inter-American Development Bank. Florida-born attorney Mauricio Claver-Carone is expected to be elected over the weekend, breaking with the IDB tradition of always having a Latin American president. The U.S.’s decision to endorse Mr. Claver-Carone scuppered the Bolsonaro administration’s ambition to name the bank’s first Brazilian president. The move also comes as China cuts back on loans to Latin American countries. 
  • Investing. Brokerage firm XP Investimentos will launch a hedge fund today that will only invest in companies that have women in leadership positions. The initiative comes after research suggests firms with female leaders have a better overall stock price performance. According to XP, 20 percent of the revenue from management fees (0.5 percent a year) will fund the As Valquírias Institute, which provides education for women and teens living in extreme poverty.[/restricted]
Brazil Daily

Brazilian Central Bank launches sustainability agenda

Today, we cover the Brazilian Central Bank’s push for sustainability. Brazil’s plan to hold safe elections amid the pandemic. And a hiccup in a front-running potential vaccine trial.

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Brazil’s Central Bank wants to go green

The Brazilian Central Bank announced[restricted] on Tuesday a new ambitious sustainability agenda, which will force financial institutions to quantify risks and opportunities associated with climate change. Their reports will have to follow the model set by the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), a market-driven initiative set up to develop recommendations for climate-related financial risk disclosures in mainstream filings.

  • The bank also plans on creating a credit line based on ESG standards (environmental, social, and governance).

Why it matters. If fully implemented, the Central Bank’s “green agenda” would make sustainability issues a key pillar of the Brazilian financial system.

Mapping risks. As our August 11 Daily Briefing showed, Latin American banks still fail to evaluate and quantify the financial impact climate change can have on their business. Banks have a particular blind spot when it comes to quantifying their clients’ financial exposure to climate hazards. Still, Brazilian institutions such as Itaú Unibanco and Santander were singled out in a recent UN report as being ahead of peers from neighboring countries.

Sustainability + Agribusiness. Otávio Damaso, the bank’s regulation director, talked about creating a “green bureau” for rural credit, which would make access to credit conditional on companies’ respect for sustainability principles. Despite failing to provide much detail about how this bureau would work, Mr. Damaso says the goal is to enhance by 20 percent credit limits for operations which are judged as more sustainable.

  • Rural credit in Brazil is a BRL 200-billion-per-year industry, spreading across over 2 million operations.

JBS. This weekend, we at The Brazilian Report showed a new report by think tank Chain Reaction Research, which focuses on sustainability issues, about the possible links between meat giant JBS and the deforestation of at least 1.7 million hectares of native vegetation in the Amazon and the savannah-like Cerrado biome since 2008.

How Brazil plans to hold safe elections amid the pandemic

Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court launched a sanitary plan to mitigate health hazards during the 2020 municipal elections — scheduled for November 15 and 29. The plan was elaborated by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation medical research institute, alongside São Paulo’s two most-renowned hospitals: Albert Einstein and Sírio-Libanês. Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares explains the main changes:

  • Voter identification. To reduce contamination, the Superior Electoral Court will suspend its flagship system against voter fraud: fingerprint identification. Voters will be only required to show their ID to poll workers — who, if necessary, can ask the person to step back and remove their mask.
  • Adapting poll stations. The country’s 95,000 poll stations will be equipped with hand sanitizer (100,000 bottles for workers and over 1 million liters to be made available for voters). Floor signs will be designed to keep people socially distanced by at least 1 meter at all times. However, electronic voting machines will not be sanitized — due to worries that the process, if done incorrectly, could damage the devices and spoil thousands of votes.
  • Protection. Facemasks will be mandatory for all — poll workers will be also provided with face shields. 
  • More time. The scheduled voting period will be extended by one hour — from 7 am to 5 pm. Authorities suggest earlier times to be demarcated for elderly voters and at-risk people.
  • Absence. Brazilian citizens must justify their absence if they can’t vote. In 2020, this can be done through an app.

Why it matters. By design, Brazil’s electoral system puts lots of people in the same place, in line, for several minutes (maybe hours). And voters will have to touch a voting machine hundreds of others have already touched the same day.

  • Unlike the U.S., where voters can mail their ballots, or France, where people can vote by proxy, voting in Brazil happens only through the traditional in-person system. And it is mandatory.

To keep an eye on. Brazil should look to the Dominican Republic for precedent. The Caribbean country held an election in July. As our own Lucas Berti reported, rules on masks and social distancing were not enforced.

Bottom line. Only the 2 million voters registered in Brasília (including yours truly) are free from risk. The federal capital enjoys a state-like status and is run by a governor, not a mayor.

Oxford vaccine trials halted after possible adverse reaction

A phase-3 coronavirus vaccine trial has been put on hold due to a suspected serious adverse reaction by a participant in the UK. The potential vaccine, developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, is being tested on thousands of Brazilians. According to the Federal University of São Paulo, 5,000 Brazilian volunteers have already taken the vaccine’s two doses and there have been no reports of adverse events so far.

  • In a statement, AstraZeneca said the company’s “standard review process triggered a delay to the vaccination trial to allow review of safety data.”

Why it matters. This potential vaccine is a frontrunner in the race for immunization against Covid-19 — and Brazil has already bought 100 million doses. The country expected the first batch of doses to be ready for December, but the suspension of the trials might affect this timetable.

Government. The suspension of trials happened on the same day Brazil’s Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said a vaccine would be rolled out for all 211 million Brazilians by January 2021.

President anti-vaxxer? Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro seems to be willing to spark an anti-vaccine movement in Brazil. Last week, he said nobody would be forced to take the vaccine — a message then relayed by the government’s official press service. On Tuesday, he said “one just can’t tie up a guy to give him a vaccine shot.”

  • Mr. Bolsonaro, however, could be going up against public opinion. An Ipsos-Mori poll showed that 88 percent of Brazilians would get a vaccine as soon as one is available.

By the numbers. The coronavirus has already killed over 300,000 people in Latin America. Cases have exploded in Argentina and Peru in recent weeks — and the latter has the highest Covid-19 mortality rate worldwide. In Brazil, over 4.1 million people have been infected, and 127,000 have died of the disease.

What else you need to know today

  • Bolsonaro family. Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro plan on presenting charges against Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, on the week of September 21. He will reportedly be charged with embezzlement, money laundering, and criminal association for allegedly forcing his staff to surrender part of their paychecks during his stint as a state lawmaker. This practice, known as a “rachid scheme,” is common among politicians in Brazil.
  • Fake news 1. Facebook has paid a BRL 1.92-billion fine (USD 358 million) for failing to fully abide by a Supreme Court decision. The social media firm had been ordered in May to block 12 pro-Bolsonaro accounts linked to the spread of false information for political purposes. The accounts were only disabled in Brazil, however, not worldwide. Despite already paying the fine, the tech giant is trying to overturn the decision. In July, President Jair Bolsonaro filed a lawsuit demanding for the accounts to be unblocked.
  • Fake news 2. House Speaker Rodrigo Maia said on Tuesday that lawmakers are finalizing a new draft for a bill targeting individuals and corporations that finance disinformation attacks through social media — stating the text could be voted on by the end of the year. The Senate approved on June 30 one such bill, which was met with heavy criticism from experts for “treating all Brazilian netizens as potential criminals,” leading the House to create a committee to propose modifications to the bill. 
  • Corruption. Prosecutors presented corruption and money laundering charges against former Rio de Janeiro City Mayor Eduardo Paes. He is accused of receiving BRL 10.8 million in kickbacks from the Odebrecht construction group. Investigators reportedly mapped 18 cash drop-offs to former aides of the ex-Mayor made in 2012, when he was re-elected as mayor. The politician, who plans to run for City Hall again in November, claimed the probe was a “clear attempt at tampering with the electoral process.”
  • Telecom. Despite the protests of Brazil’s four biggest banks, Oi Telecom shareholders approved a new recovery plan on Tuesday — based on the sale of some of the company’s key assets in order to reduce a debt now standing at BRL 64 billion. In order to pay creditors, erase part of the debt, and be able to invest, Oi plans to sell mobile telephony and pay-TV operations, transmission towers, data centers, among other assets — keeping only its fixed-telephone and broadband operations.[/restricted]

Numbers of the week: Sep. 5, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: the latest coronavirus figures, Brazilians looking forward to a vaccine, earthquakes in the Northeast, Rio Governor Wilson Witzel loses in court, the Q2 economic drop, a new chapter for the emergency salary 

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4 million coronavirus cases

Brazil became just the second country[restricted] in the world to hit the 4-million-case mark on Thursday evening. Still, there is some room for optimism, as data suggests that the spread could be slowing down. It took Brazil 25 days to go from 3 to 4 million cases — two days longer than its transition from 2 to 3 million. Moreover, new deaths and infections saw a slight drop in August. While experts celebrate the positive numbers, they warn that the curves are still plateauing at a high level.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro continued his campaign of gaslighting the Brazilian population. He patted himself on the back once more, saying his response to the pandemic was “unparalleled.” Moreover, he declared that “no-one can force anyone to take a Covid-19 vaccine,” raising fears of a potential anti-vax wave in the country. But as it turns out, coercing patients is unlikely to be necessary. An Ipsos-Mori poll in 27 countries ranked Brazilians as the second-most eager population to receive a coronavirus vaccine once it is available, with 88 percent saying they would take it.

Coronavirus emergency salary

President Jair Bolsonaro confirmed the extension of the emergency salary program until the end of the year — but the benefit will be halved to BRL 300 (USD 55) due to budgetary constraints. But the move already faces some opposition in Congress. Since the pandemic started, Mr. Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for his Covid-19 denialism. However, as The Brazilian Report showed, the financial aid improved the lives of millions of people — and boosted the president’s approval ratings among lower classes.

14 tremors in Bahia

A 4.6-magnitude earthquake was felt in several regions of the northeastern state of Bahia, including cities in the Recôncavo Baiano region and state capital Salvador. No-one was injured but several homes were damaged. From August 30 to September 1, Bahia recorded 14 tremors, all of them in the city of Amargosa, according to the Brazilian Seismographic Network (RSBR). Experts say these zones are seismogenic, which increases the propensity of the phenomenon. Though these regions — and Brazil as a whole — do not suffer from violent earthquakes like other countries, this recent small “clusters” of tremors are quite common.

-9.7 percent in Q2 2020

The Brazilian economy shrank 9.7 percent during Q2 2020 — during which social isolation was more strictly enforced in Brazil. This was the second-straight quarter of negative growth, putting the country in a technical recession

Q2 2020 data was the biggest quarterly drop on record. Still, the drop was already priced into Brazilian market performance. Brazil’s benchmark stock index Ibovespa rose 2.2 percent after the GDP announcement. Moreover, economists say the data is a look into the rearview mirror, showing what they believe was rock bottom for the country during the coronavirus crisis — and many expect a “Nike swoosh-shaped recovery,” implying the sharp fall followed by a slower, steady recuperation. However, this is conditioned to the approval of structural reforms, as the latest episode of the Explaining Brazil podcast informed.

15-1 loss for Witzel

A panel of 15 members of the Superior Court of Justice, Brazil’s second-highest judicial body, confirmed Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel’s 180-day suspension from office. He is suspected of leading a corruption ring to embezzle state funds originally earmarked for the coronavirus fight. Interim Governor Cláudio Castro is planning a cabinet overhaul — using that reshuffling as an olive branch to State Congress, which is set to vote on Mr. Witzel’s impeachment. Go deeper.

125 years (yes, years) for a verdict

The Brazilian Supreme Court has finally closed a case that had been going on for 125 years. It concerned the possession of the Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro, a neoclassical residence built in the 1850s and subject to a tiff between Brazil’s old royal family and the federal government. The case in question, a possessory action, was actually filed by Princess Isabel herself, daughter of Emperor Pedro II and one of the most important figures in Brazil’s history, being responsible for signing the so-called Golden Law in 1888 which abolished slavery in the country.

Almost a century after the original plaintiff had died, the Supreme Court dismissed the case and ruled in favor of the government.[/restricted]


Brazilians second-most eager for Covid-19 vaccine

This week, President Jair Bolsonaro caused a stink by declaring, during a conversation with supporters, that “no-one can force anyone to take a Covid-19 vaccine,” stoking fears of a burgeoning anti-vax movement in Brazil as the country faces the worst pandemic in living memory.

However, the data does not corroborate the idea that potential immunization would be anything but welcome in Brazil — in fact, the country is the second-most eager to receive the vaccine, according to a recent study.

An Ipsos-Mori poll surveyed adults from 27 countries, asking whether they would take a Covid-19 vaccine if it were available. Though China was by far the most eager for immunization — 97 percent said they would take coronavirus vaccines — Brazil was ranked second, with 88 percent of respondents in favor of being inoculated. In the U.S., where the anti-vax movement is more established, 33 percent of people were opposed to a potential vaccine.

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Brazil Daily

Good news for 5G as government cuts antenna red tape

Today, we break down Brazil’s Q2 GDP results. Some positive news that makes 5G technology closer to reality. Bolsonaro makes anti-vax a state policy. And Brazil’s lack of readiness for the General Data Protection Law.

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Bolsonaro removes major 5G bottleneck

President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree on Tuesday facilitating the installation of new antennas in Brazil. [restricted]Telecommunications companies no longer need to pay municipal administrations for the right to install their equipment on right-of-ways, public thoroughfares, and other public spaces. Moreover, it speeds up licensing processes for new antennas.

  • A 2015 bill established that cities must assess requests for antenna installations within 60 days, but as our August 28 Tech Roundup showed, this process can drag on for up to a year in major urban centers, such as the city of São Paulo. Now, a lack of response from regulators will constitute tacit approval.
  • Earlier this year, Marcos Ferrari, president of the National Union of Telephone and Cellphone Service Companies (SindiTelebrasil), told The Brazilian Report that “there are more or less 4,000 license applications for new antennas stalled so far.”

Why it matters. Brazil currently has roughly 100,000 antennas, but it would need to double this number in the next four years to enable the use of 5G technology.

Investments ahead of 5G. Brazil’s Deputy Telecoms Secretary Artur Coimbra estimates that the new regulations could generate up to BRL 3 billion in investments within a year.

Yes, but … There are other sticking points for 5G in Brazil, such as whether or not the government will ban Chinese manufacturer Huawei from the upcoming 5G auction.

  • Sector representatives are also lobbying for tax cuts, specifically for the SIM cards used in cell phone handsets. According to Marcos Ferrari, the average annual revenue of each card is BRL 12 (USD 2.22), while the tax cost is around BRL 15.

Brazil is officially in recessive territory

With a 9.7-percent drop in Q2 GDP (the worst quarterly result ever recorded), the Brazilian economy has entered a technical recession. The results were not surprising, even if they were slightly worse than market expectations. However, analysts heard by The Brazilian Report saw some silver linings in the economy’s performance: they believe Q2 was rock bottom, and that the country may already be (slowly) embarking on a path to recovery.

Reasons for concern. The Brazilian economy has returned to Q3 2009 levels — meaning an entire decade worth of growth was scrapped in a matter of months. While the pandemic hit the global economy like a wrecking ball, it also shows how sluggish the Brazilian economy has been in recent years.

  • Industrial sectors were hit the hardest, with output dropping an eye-watering 12.3 percent — the worst ever on record.
  • Family consumption, which represents no less than 65 percent of the Brazilian GDP, also had a record-setting drop of 12.5 percent. The results would have been worse if it weren’t for the government’s BRL 600 coronavirus emergency salary, which kept millions from falling below the extreme poverty line.
  • Investments were down 15.4 percent in Q2 — a trend Brazil desperately needs to reverse if it is to bounce back.

Reasons to be optimistic. President Jair Bolsonaro announced the extension of the emergency salary. While the benefit will be halved, it will notwithstanding be a necessary injection of money into the economy.

Bottom line. Brazil needs reforms to stimulate investments — and Mr. Bolsonaro promised to present Congress tomorrow with a proposal to reform public service. To avoid political backlash and make the bill easier to pass, he ensured that the new rules won’t affect current civil servants — one of Brasília’s most powerful lobbies.

  • One year ago, Mr. Bolsonaro shelved this reform. And the government has made a habit of breaking its promises on presenting reforms. Over 18 months after taking office, the Bolsonaro government has yet to come up with a full tax reform — despite this being advertised as a top priority back in 2018.

Anti-vax is now state policy

bolsonaro vaccine

Speaking to supporters on Tuesday, President Jair Bolsonaro declared that “nobody can force anybody to take a vaccine.” Moments later, the administration’s official communication channels said “the government fights for the liberty of Brazilians.”

Why it matters. Brazil has one of the best public vaccination programs in the world, but the growing strength of the anti-vax movement is undermining these efforts and allowing certain diseases to make a comeback. 

Political element. Using the argument of individual freedom to promote an anti-scientific message is not new for President Bolsonaro. However, this time the anti-vax discourse may be related to his race for re-election in 2022. São Paulo Governor João Doria is using his state’s privileged position to help coronavirus vaccine trials as a way of promoting himself politically — potentially strengthening his own presidential challenge. Fustigating these efforts could be in Mr. Bolsonaro’s political interest.

What else you need to know today

  • Data protection. Brazil’s new General Data Protection Law was passed in 2018, but most companies never adapted their processes to comply with the new regulations. A survey by Akamai Technologies shows that 64 percent of companies are not in conformity with new data protection rules — and 24 percent didn’t even know about the law’s existence. Sanctions may be applied in 2021.
  • Governor. The Superior Court of Justice (STJ) decides today on whether to uphold a Friday ruling by one of its justices to suspend Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel from office. He is suspected of running a corruption ring to embezzle state funds, but has called his suspension a political act to benefit President Jair Bolsonaro. Meanwhile, the Federal Prosecution Office says it has “a firm belief” that Mr. Witzel should be arrested to prevent evidence tampering, and is expected to present another formal complaint against him.
  • Energy. President Jair Bolsonaro signed a provisional decree allowing for reductions in power bills until 2025. The piece of legislation, however, does not explain how much these cuts will be — nor who is awarded them.
  • Gas. The House passed a bill that would create more competition in the gas market, limiting market share for state-owned firm Petrobras. If the bill passes in the Senate, the government expects BRL 60 billion in new investments in five years — as well as reduction in gas bills of up to 40 percent. Price cuts to the final consumer, however, are unlikely in the short term.
  • Banking. In a securities filing, private bank Bradesco said it has signed an agreement with JPMorgan to “facilitate the potential transfer” of JPMorgan clients in Brazil to Bradesco. The New York-based bank has roughly BRL 20 billion (USD 3.7 billion) under management in its Brazilian private banking unit — and, according to Bradesco, “continues to provide Brazilian clients with products and services abroad.”
  • Elections. The postponement of municipal elections due to the pandemic ended up benefiting candidates with past convictions. In Brazil, those with one failed appeal after a criminal conviction lose their eligibility for public office for eight years. People who became ineligible in 2012 and were supposed to sit out of politics until October 2020 will now be able to run for office this year, as the election will happen in November — and the Superior Electoral Court ruled against extending the punishment.
  • New bill. The Central Bank launches the new BRL 200 bill today. According to the bank, the decision to create the new banknote came as the use of printed money increased in Brazil — but experts say large notes make life easier for money launderers and trafficking.
  • Car Wash. Deltan Dallagnol left his post as Operation Car Wash’s lead prosecutor after six years. His actions came to be questioned after The Intercept revealed private messages exchanged between him and former Judge Sérgio Moro, showing that the prosecution and the judge coordinated many of their actions, raising suspicions about the fairness of many cases. Mr. Dallagnol was the target of many disciplinary probes — most of which have been shelved — and leaves the operation as it loses prestige and power within the Federal Prosecution Office.[/restricted]

Bolsonaro: “no one can force anyone to get a vaccine”

President Jair Bolsonaro sparked a possible anti-vax wave in Brazil, after he declared that “no one can force anyone to get a vaccine,” while speaking to a supporter. Mr. Bolsonaro was told to “ban that vaccine thing” by an anti-vax voter, suggesting the medicine could be dangerous. In many far-right circles, especially on YouTube, it is common to see non-experts denouncing the existence of a ‘Chinese conspiracy’ behind the coronavirus pandemic — Brazil has not been spared from this trend.

The president’s words are also contradictory. While Mr. Bolsonaro never encouraged the population to fulfill isolation measures and positioned himself in favor of prioritizing the economy, he recently said that the vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University would solve the country’s Covid-19 problem. 

The federal government signed a provisional decree that opened a BRL 1.9 billion budget credit for the purchase of 100 million doses and the subsequent local production of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, the risks of an anti-vax movement gaining steam during the pandemic are not just a problem for Brazil. In June, Newspaper El País wrote about the increase of these denialist wings amid the health crisis.

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Russia announces first Covid-19 vaccine — and Brazil could produce it

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the registration of the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, called “Sputnik V.” According to Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Federation Sovereign Fund, two large Brazilian companies — as well as Brazil’s federal government — are already in talks with Moscow to produce the potential vaccine, he told newspaper Valor. 

Brazil has been the second-worst-hit country in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, with over 3 million cases and 100,000 deaths.

Mr. Dmitriev said that at least 20 countries have already started bidding for the purchase of 1 billion doses. Expectations are that, with partnerships around the world, 500 million doses can be produced per year in five countries. Besides Brazil, Cuba could also be a pole of production in Latin America.

Russian officials said medical professionals, teachers, and other at-risk groups would be the first to get the vaccine, saying large-scale production will begin in September, with mass application starting in early October. 

Backed by health authorities, Mr. Putin said that the Sputnik V vaccine has “underwent the necessary tests and was shown to provide lasting immunity to the coronavirus.” Russia, however, has offered no proof to back up claims of safety or effectiveness.

The race for a coronavirus vaccine: a throwback to the Cold War

Russia chose the name “Sputnik” for a reason. Sputnik was the first Earth satellite in history, launched into space on October 4, 1957. As the Covid-19 outbreak became the biggest global challenge in the 21st century, many experts say that a new version of the Cold War space race began between Russia, the U.S., and China.

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Bolsonaro decrees BRL 1.9 billion in funding for vaccine

President Jair Bolsonaro signed a provisional decree on Thursday to allocate BRL 1.9 billion (USD 350.2 million) towards the acquisition and production of a prospective Covid-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford.

The amount will be transferred to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) for biological research – AstraZeneca’s partner in Brazil for both holding trials and negotiating the vaccine’s technology transfer.

On June 27, the federal government announced a partnership with the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, with an initial investment of BRL 695 million for the purchase and production of their prospective Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil. If the vaccine proves to be effective, the country is expected to receive 100 million units of the vaccine by the second quarter of 2021 and the technology to independently produce the vaccine in the future.

“We are guaranteeing the investment of resources in a vaccine that has proved itself as the world’s most promising. The investment is significant, not only for its value, almost BRL 2 billion, but also for the quest to bring solutions to Brazil that allow for the development of technologies for the protection of Brazilians,” said Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, during the signing ceremony of the provisional decree.

Of the BRL 1.9 billion, BRL 522.1 million will be spent on expanding the Bio-Manguinhos lab — Fiocruz’s division responsible for developing and producing vaccines — located in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The remaining BRL 1.3 billion will be allocated to the purchase and transfer of technology to produce the vaccine — a figure almost twice as big as the initial investment originally reported in June.

Encouraging signs 

The ‘Oxford vaccine,’ as it is popularly called, was the first vaccine in the world to reach the third and final phase of trials, when researchers are cleared to hold final mass trials on humans to determine the vaccine’s safety and efficiency on a larger group. Worldwide, the vaccine is holding tests on 50,000 volunteers, 5,000 in Brazil, in partnership with Fiocruz and the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).

The early phase three results are encouraging, with Unifesp Dean Soraya Smaili recently saying that the prospective vaccine is a “strong and secure” candidate against Covid-19.

In July, The Brazilian Report covered how the Oxford vaccine and another prospective vaccine being developed by Chinese lab Sinovac Biotech — both being tested in Brazil — are the country’s leading hopes in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine.

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Oxford vaccine is “strong and secure” candidate against Covid-19, says university official

Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) rector Soraya Smaili reaffirmed her belief in the prospective vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with drugmaker AstraZeneca as a viable solution to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms. Smaili, who oversees the vaccine’s trials in Brazil at Unifesp, believes the prospective vaccine is both safe for mass distribution and capable of inducing the desired immunity on individuals.

“We have promising results. We have a prospective vaccine that will probably be very secure, besides being a strong candidate as an effective vaccine,” Ms. Smaili said, in an interview with TV news channel GloboNews.

Since its early trials, the vaccine has not shown any adverse health effects on volunteers, with individuals reporting at most some sort of soreness in the region the vaccine was administered, explains Ms. Smaili.

The ‘Oxford vaccine,’ as it is popularly called, is currently in phase three of trials, which is the final round of testing including mass trials to verify the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Worldwide, the prospective vaccine is being tested on 50,000 volunteers, with Brazil holding trials on 5,000 health workers, 2,000 of them at Unifesp in São Paulo.

Brazil in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine

On June 27, the Brazilian government announced a partnership with the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca for the purchase of the vaccine’s production technology to be produced in scale in Brazil. In total, BRL 695 million (USD 130.513 million) will be invested for the production of 100 million doses of the vaccine in Brazil, by way of the Bio-Manguinhos Vaccine Technology Institute — a segment of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) for biological research — located in Rio de Janeiro.

On Saturday, August 1, Fiocruz President Nísia Trindade de Lima, in an interview with newscast RJ1, said the foundation expects to start producing the vaccine in December, while also rating the prospective vaccine’s profile as 9.5 out of 10.

On July 15, Ms. Smaili projected the Oxford vaccine will be publicly available around June 2021, as covered by The Brazilian Report, due to rigorous testing protocols.

Yet, due to the recent encouraging results, Ms. Lima says the vaccine could gain regulatory approval as early as December to be first administered on health workers. Fiocruz is already preparing its facilities to produce the prospective vaccine with expectations for an initial production batch of 30.4 million units.

If early assessments turn out to be true, the federal government’s initial gamble to invest BRL 695 million will prove to be a bargain, as Brazil will be one of the first countries to have access to the world’s most coveted vaccine. So far, the results are encouraging for all parties involved. 

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Latin America Covid-19 News Roundup: Aug. 3, 2020

? Latin America. Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Honduras, and El Salvador could be among the first recipients of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine, Moscow said. (Prensa Latina)

?? Mexico. With 46,688 deaths, Mexico surpassed the United Kingdom and became the country with the third-highest Covid-19 death toll. (Merco Press)

?? Argentina. Argentina suspended beef exports to China due to Covid-19 cases reported among meatpacking employees. (Merco Press)

?? Colombia. As the government’s reopening plan fails, schools will remain closed “indefinitely.” (Colombia Reports)

?? Chile. Chile will begin testing its Covid-19 vaccine in August, said the government. (Prensa Latina)

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