Brazil’s economic engine announces responsible resumption of activities

By Maria Angelica Troncoso

Sao Paulo, May 27 (efe-epa).- While deaths from Covid-19 increase exponentially in Brazil and studies indicate that some 90,000 could die from the disease by August, authorities in Sao Paulo – the country’s economic engine and epicenter of the pandemic – announced Wednesday the “responsible” resumption of various economic and social activities.

Brazil’s richest and most populous region, but also the one hardest hit by the pandemic, opted to reopen its economy and, starting June 1, to begin relaxing the quarantine, a move that this week was already started in other regions of the country, although the infection figures nationwide continue to skyrocket.

With some 400,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, and with the country more than a month-and-a-half from the expected peak of the infection curve, Brazil is the country with the second largest number of Covid-19 cases after the United States and the one with the sixth largest number of deaths, some 25,000, most of them in Sao Paulo state.

In this state, where about 46 million people live – 22 percent of Brazil’s population – health authorities have registered more than 86,000 virus cases and about 6,500 deaths.

Despite the alarming figures, the quarantine imposed about two months ago in Sao Paulo by Gov. Joao Doria never motivated the majority of the public to remain socially isolated, with a daily average of only 52 percent of them staying home.

The resumption of economic activities has been under consideration for some time by Doria due to pressure from businessmen who have been clamoring to be allowed to reopen their companies, a demand backed right from the start of the pandemic by President Jair Bolsonaro, one of the world leaders who has been most skeptical about the coronavirus, calling it just a “little flu” despite the high death toll and high infection rate.

Sao Paulo contributes more than a third of the country’s GDP and almost 40 percent of its industrial production.

However, a good portion of its industries have had to shut down and tell their workers to go on vacation amid the pandemic.

Add to that the fact that the region is an important logistical link in the country’s supply chain, since it is there that the port of Santos is located, Latin America’s largest maritime terminal.

Despite the announcement of resuming economic activities, Doria admitted that the state might have to take “a step backwards” – and presumably reimpose certain movement restrictions and/or a lockdown – if he feels it to be necessary to “protect lives.”

The “responsible” reopening of the Sao Paulo economy will be divided into five phases that, according to the governor, will be implemented in those parts of the state that have seen a consistent reduction in the number of coronavirus cases and which have sufficient public and private hospital beds available.

“Those phases will continue with their orientation to science, medicine and health, and we have technical figures that allow the gradual resumption” of economic activities, said Doria in announcing the move at a press conference at which he emphasized the advances made in the past two months thanks to the quarantine.

According to the state government, the social isolation measures adopted in Sao Paulo to control the pandemic resulted in saving more than 60,000 lives, people who ostensibly would have died had the measures not been taken.

The situation, however, worries experts, since studies show that the infection curve for Covid-19 in Brazil continues to rise sharply.

“We’ve seen that we’ve got a large number of cases, increasing, and as long as we continue with the growing number of cases, the curve will be on the rise,” pulmonologist Patricia Canto, with the National School of Public Health of Fiocruz, Latin America’s main health research center, told EFE.

Canto said that the virus is beginning to concentrate in the interior of the country, in smaller cities that lack sufficient health infrastructure to attend to serious cases.

Sao Paulo is not the only part of the country to decide to ease its quarantine, but as other states have begun to do the same the results – so far – have not been very positive.

On Wednesday, the national capital of Brasilia experienced long lines of people wearing facemasks waiting for the opening of malls after the shopping centers were given the green light to admit the public, albeit according to strict safety protocols.

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