Brazil’s Biggest City Moves to Ease Coronavirus Lockdown

This May 22, 2019 photo shows brick and block brick houses of the sprawling slum neighborhood of Paraisopolis stacked next to the posh Morumbi neighborhood, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. A study released this month by the Getulio Vargas Foundation found that the key measure of income inequality has reached its …
Victor R. Caivano/AP Photo

The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Joao Doria, announced on Wednesday that the state and its eponymous capital city would officially extend Chinese coronavirus measures through June 15 – but restrictions on some economic activity will ease as early as June 1.

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s largest city and the state is the most severely affected in the country by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. While Brazil has attracted much international attention over opposition to lockdown measures by President Jair Bolsonaro, local governors have more power than Bolsonaro to impose or limit the measures, meaning much of the country has actually abided by lockdowns Bolsonaro has protested. Bolsonaro has taken measures to prevent federal-level limitations on civil liberties, however, including firing his health minister for supporting the quarantining of healthy individuals. His replacement resigned shortly after being appointed this month.

Not counting rogue states – like China, Iran, and Russia – highly suspected of tampering with official coronavirus statistics to make the situation look more under control, Brazil has documented more cases than any country in the world except America. At press time, Brazilian authorities have reported 411,821 cases of Chinese coronavirus nationwide and 25,598 deaths. The latest update from the Brazilian Ministry of Health on Wednesday identified 89,483 of those cases and 6,712 deaths occurring in Sao Paulo, or about 22 percent of national cases. At the onset of the regional outbreak in March, Sao Paulo accounted for 68 percent of Brazil’s coronavirus cases.

Doria, the governor, announced a plan he called “conscientious resumption” of activities in the state.

“We are announcing the conscientious resumption [of activities] from the 1st of June. From June 1st, for 15 days, we will maintain quarantine,” Doria said on Wednesday. “However, with a conscientious resumption of some economic activities in the state of São Paulo.”

Doria had previously entertained beginning to end limitations on civil liberties on May 11, but shelved the plan as the rate of identified infections accelerated.

The state is using a five-step reopening plan and will identify the safest areas as ready to move from Phase 1, total lockdown, to Phase 2, which will allow for some activities like the reopening of offices, shopping centers, and stores with social distancing procedures in place.

“These phases will follow the direction of science, medicine, and health and we have technical data to allow the gradual return” of the economy, the governor added.

The mayor of Sao Paulo city, Bruno Covas, announced on Thursday that the cities offices, stores, malls, real estate services, and concessionaires will be legally allowed to reopen. Businesses must meet a strict list of requirements, however, including routine testing of employees and social distancing measures on the premises. Covas warned that the easing of restrictions could end at any moment if the region’s healthcare system appeared too stressed through indices like a lack of open ICU beds.

Brazil’s Veja magazine noted on Thursday that Sao Paulo city currently has occupants in 92 percent of its available ICU beds.

Brazil’s federal government has expressed extreme concern about the economic devastating of forcing businesses to shut down. Bolsonaro himself has appeared at several public gatherings urging businesses to remain open – in some cases, creating crowds in violation of social distancing guidelines – and encouraging Brazilians to patronize their local small businesses. This weekend, Bolsonaro appeared before a crowd that had gathered to support him in Brasilia, taking off his mask to greet them and embracing children.

President Donald Trump banned individuals present in Brazil in the last 14 days from entering the United States this weekend to prevent the further spread of the virus.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro approved an economic bailout plan for states whose governments imposed coronavirus lockdowns. The aid will reportedly sum up to $60 billion reais, or about $11.3 billion.

The lockdown measures have devastated the Brazilian economy. Data released Thursday showed Brazil’s national unemployment rate had reached 12.6 percent at the end of April, representing 12.8 million Brazilians. The change from first to second quarter of 2020 represented a drop of 5.2 percent in the number of employed people, the largest drop since 2012.

The frustration appears to have affected Bolsonaro’s disapproval rate, which – according to a poll published by Datafolha this week, reached new highs in light of the pandemic crisis. Datafolha found in a poll conducted between May 25 and 26 that 43 percent of Brazilians considered their federal government “bad or terrible.” Bolsonaro’s approval rate, strangely, remained around 33 percent, while the number of respondents who considered the government “ok” dropped significantly. The left-wing Folha de Sao Paulo interpreted the change to mean that the pandemic had affected the attitude of moderates towards Bolsonaro, while those on the far left and far right did not appear to change their opinion.

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