Brazil now fourth-highest in Covid-19 deaths

The number of coronavirus fatalities in Brazil has risen by almost 1,000 in a day, making the country’s overall death toll the world’s fourth highest.

Its figure of 28,834 has now surpassed France, and only the US, the UK and Italy have recorded more deaths.

President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently played down the outbreak, although the country has the world’s second-highest number of cases.

He has criticised state lockdowns for harming Brazil’s economy and jobs.

What are the latest figures?

Brazil’s health ministry said the past 24 hours had seen 956 new deaths.

This puts it past France’s total of 28,774. Even if new figures raised the French total back above Brazil, the trends in the two countries show deaths in the Latin American nation are on a far steeper upward trend.

According to a count by Johns Hopkins University, Brazil now has 498,440 confirmed cases.

Only the US has more, with 1.77 million.

The number of deaths in Brazil has been doubling roughly every two weeks, compared to about every two months in the UK, four months in France, and five months in Italy.

Experts have warned that the real figure may be far higher due to a lack of testing.

Will this change Brazil’s policies?

Mr Bolsonaro is unlikely to alter his stance, arguing that the economic fallout of lockdowns is worse than the outbreak.

He has fought what he calls “the tyranny of total quarantine” by state governors – despite the upward tick in cases – and has even called for Brazil’s football season to resume.

He has also been seen mingling with hundreds of supporters in Brasilia while not wearing a face mask.

On Sunday, Pope Francis added to the pressure on the president by highlighting the plight of the people of the Amazon.

“We call on the Holy Spirit to grant light and strength to the Church and to society in Amazonia, which has been harshly tested by the pandemic,” he said.

Amazonas state has one of Brazil’s highest infection rates and also one of the most underfunded health systems.

Many experts believe Central and South America are now the major hotspots for increased infections.

A combination of under-pressure healthcare systems and a mixed response by governments to the severity of Covid-19 has meant the region cannot apply the same easing of lockdowns taking place in Europe and elsewhere.

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Private equity firm IG4 buys two Brazilian hospitals amid COVID pandemic

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian private equity firm IG4 has spent 200 million reais ($38 million) on two recent deals to acquire hospitals through its recently formed OPY Health unit amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Both hospitals, one in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte in the country’s southeast which OPY bought in March and another one in the Amazonian city of Manaus whose purchase was finalized on Friday, are part of Brazil’s public health system serving low-income members of the population.

The former was purchased from Brazilian construction conglomerate Andrade Gutierrez and the latter from Spain’s Abengoa SA (ABG.MC). Both sellers are restructuring debt.

OPY is in talks to acquire other six Brazilian hospitals, the sources added, asking for anonymity to disclose private talks. At least two more deals may be announced this year, the sources added.

The hospital in Belo Horizonte has 440 beds and the one in Manaus, 380 beds. The latter were recently converted into ICU units when the city’s healthcare system teetered on the verge of collapse as it suffered from one of the country’s worst outbreaks of the virus. The private equity firm is planning to expand the number of beds in both hospitals.

The hospitals represent first investments of the $250 million fund focused in Latin America raised by IG4 last March, mainly from European investors.

The two IG4 Brazilian hospitals will have average revenue of 220 million reais combined, paid by Brazil’s Ministry of Health. Their EBITDA margin is close to 50%, according to the sources.

OPY Health follows a model common in the UK and Canada, where private companies own and manage hospitals serving public health services. In the UK, the largest companies are listed, such as Primary Health Properties Plc (PHP.L).

High margins in private Brazilian hospital chain Rede D’Or have previously lured investors such as Singapore’s GIC Pte and Carlyle Group (CG.O).

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Bolsonaro says in video he tried to change police to prevent family being 'screwed'

RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he was unwilling to see his family get “screwed” because of his inability to change law enforcement officials, according to a video released on Friday set to deepen the political crisis surrounding the president.

In the recording of an April 22 ministerial meeting, which forms part of a criminal investigation and was released by a Supreme Court justice on Friday, Bolsonaro said it was his prerogative to change security officials, their bosses or even a minister.

“I’ve tried to change our security people in Rio de Janeiro officially, and I wasn’t able to. That’s over. I won’t wait for my family or my friends to get screwed,” Bolsonaro said.

“If you can’t change (the official), change his boss. You can’t change the boss? Change the minister. End of story. We’re not kidding around,” he added.

Writing on Facebook after the release of the video, Bolsonaro said there was “no indication of interference in the federal police.”

In a radio interview with Jovem Pan, he said he had been talking about his own personal security and not senior members of the federal police.

The public airing of the video comes at a bad time for Bolsonaro. His political woes have led to rumblings about impeachment.

Bolsonaro has been criticized for his handling of Brazil’s worsening coronavirus outbreak. Brazil now has the second highest number of infections, behind the United States.

Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello ordered the partial release of the video. It is one component of a criminal investigation over allegations by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro that Bolsonaro leaned on him to change senior members of the federal police in Rio. Moro quit last month.

Before becoming president, Bolsonaro represented Rio state as a federal lawmaker for nearly 30 years. His son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, also got his start there, and is under investigation over allegations of corruption.

Kim Kataguiri, a member of congress and one-time Bolsonaro ally, said on Twitter the video “proves” Bolsonaro had interfered in the federal police to protect his children.

Brazilian political parties are also investigating the president’s conduct. In one of those probes, the parties have asked for the seizure of Bolsonaro’s cell phone.

The national security adviser, former General Augusto Heleno, said in a statement he was outraged by the “inconceivable” request for the president’s phone. It could “have unpredictable consequences for the stability of the country,” he said.

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Brazil's coronavirus cases pass Germany's as Bolsonaro fights to open gyms

RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus passed Germany on Tuesday, as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fought states over his wish to reopen gyms and beauty parlors even as his country becomes a new global hotspot for the pandemic.

Brazil has confirmed 177,589 cases since its outbreak began in late February, passing Germany’s 170,508 confirmed cases and drawing nearly even with France’s tally of 178,225 confirmed and probable cases.

Europe is beginning to lift lockdowns as the death toll in the region eases, but the outbreak is still accelerating in Brazil, where Bolsonaro has played down the risks of the disease and criticized state governments’ isolation orders.

Brazil recorded its deadliest day yet, with 881 confirmed deaths in 24 hours from the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Bolsonaro has ratcheted up his dispute with state governors this week, with a decree classifying businesses such as gyms and hair salons as “essential” services, exempt from lockdowns. The right-wing president has argued that the economic damage from closing businesses is worse than the disease.

“Governors who do not agree with the decree can file lawsuits in court,” Bolsonaro wrote on social media. He later threatened to take his own legal actions against them if they do not comply.

At least 10 governors said they would not follow the decree.

“Bolsonaro is walking toward the precipice and wants to take all of us with him,” Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel said on Twitter.

Bolsonaro’s popularity has suffered since the crisis began, polls show. Disapproval of the president rose to more than 55% in a survey released on Tuesday, from 47% in January.

An investigation authorized by the Supreme Court into Bolsonaro’s alleged efforts to meddle with police investigations has also eroded his support, distracted from the country’s pandemic response, and rattled markets.

Bolsonaro won election in 2018 on pledges to clean up politics and make sweeping market-friendly reforms to restore economic growth after a deep recession – plans derailed by the pandemic.

Sources told Reuters the government will soon slash its 2020 economic outlook dramatically, predicting a more than 4% drop in gross domestic product, down from a prior forecast for flat growth.

Brazil has passed France and Germany in confirmed cases even as its testing lags far behind both.

As of Monday, Brazil had processed nearly 338,000 novel coronavirus tests in three months at official labs, said the Health Ministry. Another 145,000 tests are in analysis or the backlog.

By contrast, Germany’s certified labs tested more than 330,000 samples last week alone and have the capacity to test around 838,000 samples per week. France has also invested in testing to boost capacity to around 700,000 tests per week.

Brazil’s health ministry had confirmed 12,400 deaths from the virus as of Tuesday.

A coronavirus mortality model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts over 88,000 deaths from the coronavirus in Brazil by August.

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Biggest threat to Brazil coronavirus response? President Bolsonaro, says The Lancet

BRASILIA (Reuters) – The biggest threat to Brazil’s ability to successfully combat the spread of the coronavirus and tackle the unfolding public health crisis is the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, according to British medical journal The Lancet.

In an editorial, the Lancet said his disregard for and flouting of lockdown measures is sowing confusion across Brazil, which is now recording record numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and is fast emerging as one of the world’s coronavirus hot spots.

Brazil’s Health Ministry on Thursday registered 9,888 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 610 related deaths. That brought the total of confirmed cases in Brazil to 135,106 and deaths to 9,146, the most deadly outbreak in an emerging market nation.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is becoming increasingly hamstrung by political crisis following his recent sacking of popular Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta and the resignation of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, The Lancet said.

“Such disarray at the heart of the administration is a deadly distraction in the middle of a public health emergency and is also a stark sign that Brazil’s leadership has lost its moral compass, if it ever had one,” the editorial said.

“The challenge is ultimately political, requiring continuous engagement by Brazilian society as a whole. Brazil as a country must come together to give a clear answer to the ‘So what?’ by its President. He needs to drastically change course or must be the next to go,” the editorial said.

In response to a journalist’s question last week about the record number of deaths from coronavirus, Bolsonaro said “So what? I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?”

Bolsonaro’s press office declined to comment on the Lancet editorial.

A report by Imperial College London published on Friday showed that “the epidemic is not yet controlled and will continue to grow” in Brazil, in stark contrast to parts of Europe and Asia, where enforced lockdowns have been more successful.

“While the Brazilian epidemic is still relatively nascent on a national scale, our results suggest that further action is needed to limit spread and prevent health system overload,” the Imperial College report said.

In its editorial, The Lancet noted challenges Brazil faces. About 13 million Brazilians live in shanty town ‘favelas,’ where hygiene recommendations and physical distancing are near impossible to follow.

The country’s indigenous population was also under “severe threat” even before the COVID-19 outbreak due to the government turning a blind eye to or even encouraging illegal mining and logging in the Amazon rainforest.

“These loggers and miners now risk bringing COVID-19 to remote populations,” it said.

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Inmates take guards hostage at prison in coronavirus-hit Brazilian city of Manaus

Inmates at a prison in Manaus, a Brazilian city deep in the Amazon that has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, briefly took seven prison guards hostage on Saturday, the local prison authority told Reuters.

The inmates had rioted to create a distraction as others built a tunnel underneath the prison walls, but police snuffed out the scheme after raiding the prison and freed the guards, prison officials said.

There were no reported deaths. However, 10 prison guards, two police officers and five inmates were lightly injured, the prison authority said in a statement.

Dozens of family members gathered outside the prison walls complained of conditions inside the jail, including insufficient food, cells without electricity, and lack of proper medical attention for inmates.

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Some said the spread of the coronavirus throughout the city was making their concerns more urgent.

The rebellion came as the coronavirus outbreak overwhelms public services in Manaus, with authorities burying victims in mass graves and warning residents of an imminent shortage of coffins. There have been two confirmed coronavirus cases in Amazonas’ prisons elsewhere in the state, according to local authorities.

Violence is rife in Brazil’s prisons, where organized crime groups often exercise de facto control. Overcrowding is also common and rights groups call conditions medieval, with food scarce and cells so packed that prisoners sometimes have no space to lie down.

In January 2017, almost 150 prisoners were killed as organized crime groups battled each other in several prisons in north and northeastern Brazil. In one particularly violent incident in Manaus, 57 inmates were killed, some of whom were decapitated and thrown over prison walls.

Last year, over 50 inmates were strangled or stabbed to death as rival gangs battled each other in four separate Manaus jails.

Local television stations showed a video earlier in the day, allegedly recorded by an unidentified inmate who complained of sweltering heat and a lack of electricity in the prison.

In a statement earlier on Saturday, the prison authority said the prisoners were demanding the presence of the press and human rights groups.

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Brazil's Rio at mercy of Pimco, Dodge & Cox as oil cash dries up

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Already grappling with one of Brazil’s most severe outbreaks of the novel coronavirus and a budget deep in the red, Rio de Janeiro state faces a potential threat to its solvency at the hands of investment giants PIMCO and Dodge & Cox.

The U.S. asset managers have the right to a 2.5 billion real ($470 million) accelerated loan repayment in mid-May from Brazil’s third-largest state, known for its dramatic coastal capital, officials told Reuters.

The state, whose public hospitals are nearing capacity as they treat over 4,500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, faces an estimated $3 billion in lost revenue this year, partly from a broad plunge in tax intake stemming from quarantine measures and in part due to lost revenue from oil, its key industry.

Royalty payments from oil producers operating off Rio’s coast, including state-run behemoth Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4.SA), were supposed to secure the loans, of which the first installment was extended in 2014.

While the loans do not mature for years, PIMCO and Dodge and Cox have the option of demanding early payments if crude dips below $40 per barrel. For over a month, Brent </LCOc1> has been trading at under $35 as demand has fallen off a cliff amid worldwide stay-at-home orders, while some contracts for West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark U.S. crude, have gone negative.

That has put this sweltering mega-state of over 16 million people in a tight spot.

Rio’s situation reflects the cruel dilemma of many oil-dependent governments, which are seeing revenues plummet as social spending soars amid widespread unemployment and stressed public health systems. The burden is particularly acute in Latin America, where the novel coronavirus has a firm foothold. Brazil has over 40,000 confirmed cases, according to the Health Ministry.

“Because of the loans, in addition to a very large drop in revenue, we’re facing an increase in expenses,” said Rio finance minister Luiz Claudio Rodrigues de Carvalho, who is negotiating with the funds in a bid to keep them from demanding immediate payment.

Newport Beach-based PIMCO declined to comment. San Francisco-based Dodge & Cox did not respond to a request for comment.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Colombia’s director of public credit told Reuters this month that the country may have to take out more multilateral loans than previously expected as revenue dries up.

Last week, oil-reliant Ecuador, where the virus has overwhelmed public services, reached a deal to delay interest payments on nearly $20 billion of sovereign bonds. Nine Latin American countries are expected to receive emergency funds from the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

In Rio, Carvalho said he is optimistic about reaching a deal with the U.S. funds, which have shown an eagerness to negotiate. He added that the state believes the current terms of the loans are attractive to the funds in the long-term.

Among the possibilities being floated is a 12-month delay in any early repayment. But, Carvalho added, once a deal is reached, more measures will be needed.

Rio is also considering negotiating a delay in a 3.9 billion real payment owed on another loan, from French bank BNP Paribas SA (BNPP.PA) in December, and the state is set to attempt an initial public offering of its water utility this year, Carvalho said. BNP Paribas did not respond to a comment request.

Rio is also seeking a bailout from the federal government.

But with the central government itself looking at a $95 billion shortfall, any help from the administration of far right President Jair Bolsonaro is likely to take time.

“No state,” Carvalho warned, “is able to survive this crisis alone.”

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Brazilian tourist rescued near 'Into the Wild' site in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – A Brazilian tourist who made a pilgrimage to an abandoned bus made famous by the book and film “Into the Wild” has been rescued from the remote site outside of Denali National Park, the Alaska State Troopers said on Thursday.

The tourist, one of hundreds of visitors who have hiked out to the site where Christopher McCandless died of starvation in 1992, activated an emergency beacon after he ran out of food, the troopers said.

The troopers identified the hiker as 26-year-old Gabriel Dias Da Silva.

Da Silva was picked up by a trooper helicopter on Wednesday from his campsite near the bus, Peters said. He had been able to cross the river on the way to the bus, but conditions had worsened when he tried to return, Peters said.

“The river was open and raging. Apparently when he had headed out about a week ago, ice bridges were still up,” she said.

The abandoned and rusted bus, which McCandless used as his final campsite, has become a shrine of sorts for fans of the book by Jon Krakauer and the 2007 movie that was based on it.

Dias Da Silva is the latest in a long list of hikers to the “Into the Wild” bus who have required rescue. In February, five Italian tourists, one with frostbitten feet, were rescued after hiking to the site.

Two of the treks have been fatal. Last summer, a woman from Belarus died after being swept away in the Teklanika River on her return from the bus. In 2010, a woman from Switzerland also died in the river in a similar incident.

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Brazil likely has 12 times more coronavirus cases than official count, study finds

BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil likely has 12 times more cases of the new coronavirus than are being officially reported by the government, with too little testing and long waits to confirm the results, according to a study released on Monday.

Researchers at a consortium of Brazilian universities and institutes examined the ratio of cases resulting in deaths through April 10 and compared it with data on the expected death rate from the World Health Organization.

The much higher-than-expected death rate in Brazil indicates there are many more cases of the virus than are being counted, with the study estimating only 8% of cases are being officially reported.

The government has focused on testing serious cases rather than all suspected cases, according to the consortium, known as the Center for Health Operations and Intelligence. The center and medical professionals have also complained of long wait times to get test results.

Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has said that it is difficult to distribute tests in Brazil because of the size of the country but acknowledges that testing needs to improve.

Officially, Brazil’s coronavirus death toll rose to 1,328 on Monday, while the number of confirmed cases hit 23,430, according to health ministry data.

As of last Thursday, Brazil had had around 127,000 suspected cases and carried out just short of 63,000 tests, ministry figures indicate. A health ministry official on Monday said more than 93,000 tests are still being processed for results.

Year to date, the number of hospitalizations for severe respiratory symptoms has been over three times higher than usual for the time of year, but only 12% of those have been confirmed as COVID-19, the severe respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“The high degree of under-notification could give a false impression about control of the disease, and consequently, could lead to a decline in containment measures,” the center said.

The outbreak has stoked tension in the Brazilian government, with right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro downplaying risks of the virus and urging the country to return to normal, while his health minister, state governors and local officials urge stricter measures.

The center has thus far been accurate in predicting the evolution of the virus in Brazil, with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases through March 30 falling within the range that the researchers previously predicted.

The researchers are now predicting that by April 20 the number of cases will grow to 25,164 in its most optimistic scenario and 60,413 cases in its most pessimistic.

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U.S. denies hijacking Chinese medical supplies meant for Brazil

BRASILIA (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Brazil on Tuesday denied reports that the U.S. government took over Chinese supplies of medical equipment that were ordered by Brazil to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said last week China had ditched some Brazilian equipment orders when the U.S. government sent more than 20 cargo planes to the country to buy the same products.

Local media also reported that a shipment of supplies destined for the Brazilian state of Bahia was diverted for use in the United States during a stopover in Miami after suppliers were offered higher prices.

“The U.S. government did not buy or block any material destined for Brazil. Those reports are false. We have investigated this,” Ambassador Todd Chapman told reporters in a conference call.

Chapman, a career diplomat who arrived in Brasilia last week, said suppliers around the world were taking advantage of the huge demand for medical equipment such as personal protective equipment, gloves and masks.

Mandetta said last week Brazilian states are well stocked for now, but Brazil had to turn to several countries before it could find a taker – China – for its 1.2 billion reais ($228 million) order to restock.

Brazil’s education minister has also accused Chinese suppliers of profiteering on the pandemic, and mocked Chinese accents.

The minister later said he would apologize if China agreed to sell Brazil 1,000 ventilators.

While the United States has rapidly become the epicenter of the global pandemic, the number of confirmed cases of the disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19, in Brazil has doubled in the last six days to 12,056, with 553 related deaths.

Chapman, who served as deputy head of the U.S. embassy in Brasilia from 2011-2014, said the Trump administration is considering suspending all flights to Brazil, but no decision has been taken yet.

“It is important to protect our country and it is important for Brazil too. We are evaluating this constantly in talks with Brazilian authorities,” he said.

U.S. airlines have drastically cut back operations in Latin America, but Chapman said there are still 16 flights a week to Brazil. Brazilian authorities last week banned entry of U.S. citizens who are not residents in Brazil.

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