Friday, April 24, 2020

Moro out in Brazil (April 24, 2020)

Brazilian justice minister Sergio Moro quit this morning -- a move of huge political significance as Brazil's government battles a massive coronavirus epidemic and internal divisions over President Jair Bolsonaro. Moro's exit is a significant blow to Bolsonaro's administration.

Moro, a former judge who presided over the landmark Lava Jato corruption investigation, said he was stepping down in response to Bolsonaro removing one of the minister’s closest associates, Maurício Valeixo, from his job as head of the federal police. “I have to protect my biography and above all the commitment I took on … that we would stand firm against corruption, organized crime and violent crime,” said Moro.

Speculation has been rife as to why Bolsonaro would move against Valeixo, and some press reports indicate it could be related to the police investigation into the dissemination of fake news and promotion of anti-democracy protests and the potential involvement of one of Bolsonaro's sons, Carlos Bolsonaro.

But other sources indicate that Moro has been increasingly uncomfortable with Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including the ongoing rejection of social distancing measures and the ousting last week of a health minister who contradicted the president's laissez-faire messaging. 

More Brazil
  • The New York Times made a coronavirus map of cases in Brazil, where, as of this morning, at least 3,313 people had died.
  • In Manaus, in Brazil's Amazonas state, the death rate has overwhelmed infrastructure and coffins are being buried in mass graves, reports EFE.
  • Positive pushes: NudgeRio, a department in Rio’s city hall that uses behavioral science to influence people’s decisions is deploying innovative strategies to urge people to stay home in the midst of the pandemic. The team is also involved in a project to combat growing domestic violence, a global problem exacerbated by lockdown situations, reports the Guardian.

"Immunity Passports" in Chile

Chile is experimenting with documents certifying people who have recovered from Covid-19, which would function as a sort of permit to resume normal life, on the assumption that holders have immunity from reinfection and contagion of others. The media has dubbed them "immunity passports," and there have been numerous references in the international press, though health officials prefer to refer to them as "Covid-19 Certificates" as the subject of immunity is still debated.

The Chilean government has technically referred to them as certificates of recovery, that would apparently be given to patients who have also completed a quarantine after the illness, and are presumed to have immunity from the novel coronavirus.  Reports differ on the details of who would receive them, but El País cites health ministry official Paula Daza who said the first phase will focus on people with a confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis and a subsequent 14 day quarantine. Health Minister Jaime Mañalich told the World Health Organization, yesterday, that the document is for people with confirmed PCR (serum) tests, who had an infection and complied with the 14 day quarantine. (La Tercera)

Chilean press indicates that the rollout was delayed from this Monday due to security measures, and is expected imminently. ( La Tercera and La Nación) Reports in the international press that 5,000 of these will be handed out could be extrapolating from the official "recovered" statistic, which was 4.676 earlier this week (44.5 percent of the confirmed positives, 10.507). 

Regardless, the plan is controversial among health experts, including the World Health Organization, which warns that there is no proof yet that people who have recovered from Covid-19 are actually immune, nor how long the immunity could be expected to last. Local scientists are concerned that economic concerns are trumping public health concerns, and question the assumption that the novel coronavirus acts like similar viruses, reports Publimetro. (This is obviously not an issue limited to Chile, check out this New York Times op-ed that does a deep-dive the issue and the partial acquisition of immunity in other coronaviruses.)

Another concern several experts have voiced is whether the freedom afforded by the pass, which aims at economic reactivation, would push people to purposely expose themselves to the novel coronavirus in order to be able to resume work. Experts also pointed to concerns over the accuracy of antibody tests, if those were to be used for the certificates. (BioBio)

The polemic is part of a broader debate over Chile's quarantine model, which is more flexible than the total lockdowns implemented in neighboring countries. Chile has instead targeted affected neighborhoods, and has progressively relaxed restrictions in areas where infection rates appear to be going down, reports Bloomberg.

Chile's government is anxious to restart the economy. President Sebastián Piñera said government officials will progressively return to their desks over the next couple of months, a decision that has some critics saying it's far too soon. Piñera said last weekend that while the epidemic is not over, the rate of people actively infected seems to have stabilized, with people recovering as new people fall ill. 

Nonetheless, Chilean health officials say some forms of restrictions are to be expected until the end of the Southern Hemisphere winter.

More Chile
  • Chileans were supposed to vote on whether to draft a new constitution this weekend. El Hilo podcast explores what is happening with the social demands that exploded on the scene last October and have been sidelined by Covid-19. (Also see yesterday's briefs.)
News Briefs

  • The death toll in Ecuador during the coronavirus outbreak was 15 times higher than the official number of Covid-19 deaths reported by the government, according to an analysis of mortality data by the New York Times. The numbers suggest that the South American country is suffering one of the worst outbreaks in the world.
  • The case seems relevant for other developing countries around the world. "Academic research on Ecuadorean politics and human security in past pandemics suggests that coronavirus may create greater political and economic turmoil in a country that already struggles with instability," warn Dennis Altman and Juan Carlos Valarezo in the Conversation.
  • Venezuelan opposition leaders agreed to pay themselves $5,000 a month, a move contained in legislation passed last week by the National Assembly to set up an $80 million “Liberation Fund” made up of Venezuelan assets seized by the U.S. reports the Associated Press. The legislation was supposed to be a major coup for opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has struggled to exert real power since declaring himself interim president over a year ago. But the backlash for the payout could be intense in a country where minimum wage is $2 a month.
  • The U.S. might start testing foreign nationals before deporting them, after several countries -- especially Guatemala -- complained about receiving Covid-19 infected deportees, reports the Miami Herald. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • A plane carrying 129 migrants who were deported from the U.S. landed yesterday in Haiti, despite growing concerns over Covid-19 impact in the country, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)
Central America
  • Strict quarantine measures have bumped up against extreme poverty, stoking civil unrest in Central America. Governments have responded with social spending, tear gas and arbitrary detentions, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Central America's economies will be further battered by loss of money remittances from the U.S. -- an expected drop of 10 percent, reports Bloomberg
  • Leftist discourse aside, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's austerity cuts in the midst of pandemic put him more in line with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, according to critics. (Guardian)
  • Peru will release under amnesty about 3,000 prisoners including those who are particularly at risk from the coronavirus pandemic, reports AFP.
  • Argentina's quarantine will likely be prolonged into May -- President Alberto Fernández is expected to make an announcement tonight. Children are increasingly a topic of concern, after 36 days of lockdown (preceded by a school shutdown the week before). Experts are suggesting permitting outings within a limited radius of their homes. (Página 12)
  • Random quarantines: check out the festival goers who got trapped at a Panamanian beach. (Guardian)
  • Critters wandering in abandoned urban settings are definitely the coronavirus pandemic's silver-lining. The global climate impact is huge: experts are predicting the largest annual drop in carbon emissions in modern history, reports the Washington Post.
  • Not that it's all good: Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon is increasing more than ever this year, thanks to environmental enforcement agents sidelined by the pandemic, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A startup is working with Chilean fishermen to recycle their plastic nets and keep them from polluting the ocean. (Guardian)
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... And in these times of coronavirus, when we're all feeling a little isolated, feel especially free to reach out and share.

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