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Politics loom large in Brazil’s response to pandemic

As Brazil's death toll from the coronavirus surpassed that of the United Kingdom, making it the second highest in the world, many Brazilians are expressing outrage over a move by the government to limit the amount of data released on the pandemic. New York Times reporter Ernesto Londoño joins Hari Sreenivasan from Rio de Janeiro for more on the COVID-19 crisis.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    A new outbreak of coronavirus cases in China has put a district in Beijing into what authorities are calling "wartime mode" with new lockdowns in place.

    A 52-year-old man hospitalized on Thursday with coronavirus symptoms had visited a major seafood and produce market in early June.

    Contact tracers are working to test the ten thousand people who work at the Xinfadi market. So far they have found 45 new cases.

    Beijing had gone 55 days without a locally transmitted case of the coronavirus.

    And in Brazil, the country 's coronavirus death toll is now the second highest in the world, surpassing the U.K. with nearly 42,000 recorded deaths. Controversy arose there earlier this month when the government stopped publishing some COVID-19 data, including the number of coronavirus deaths. A judge overturned the decision days later.

    I spoke with New York Times reporter Ernesto Londoño in Rio de Janeiro about that and more on the COVID-19 crisis in Brazil.

    So the president decides not to publish the coronavirus numbers. How do the people react?

  • Ernesto Londoño:

    People reacted with outrage. You know, experts founded inconceivable that a country that has now emerged as the epicenter of the epidemic was playing fast and loose with the numbers. And it was questioning whether the numbers presented an accurate snapshot of the epidemic.

    You know with anything healthcare experts think that the official tally undercounts the number of virus deaths and cases in Brazil, we are at a point where more than 40,000 people have died. There have been more than 800,000 confirmed cases.

    And this is in a country that has had very limited testing and where the trend lines are still tracking upward. The government was forced to reinstate the old way it was counting deaths only after the Supreme Court weighed in and ordered it to do so.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now, how much of this is politics? Because you kind of see Brazil following many of the steps of the United States. Our trend lines are going up, but we're also reopening. There are images that I see of shopping malls and people going back to life as normal in Brazil.

  • Ernesto Londoño:

    Absolutely. I think politics looms large for all of the elected officials who have a hand in dealing with this pandemic. And what we've had essentially is a tug of war between the presidents and governors around the country that have tried to promote quarantine. I think what all the elected officials are asking themselves is when the economic toll really starts to bite, who is going to be blamed for the steps that we're taking?

    And I think the president on some level believes that the governors can take the brunt of the political hit and he can emerge as the leader, you know, that expressed throughout this crisis the most concern for people's welfare or jobs, etc.

    You know he continues to this day to downplay and downplay the severity of the pandemic and to to make claims that are pretty preposterous in the eyes of many of his critics, for example, on a recent video-live conversation that he had with supporters he said that people should take to the hospital, should sneak into the hospitals to film what is truly going on, which, you know, doctors obviously think is is supremely dangerous to encourage people to sneak into hospitals at a time when doctors are trying to contain this pandemic.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the other stories that you did this week was kind of interesting is that the deforestation crisis that Brazil's been facing for quite some time now has actually picked up pace during the pandemic. How?

  • Ernesto Londoño:

    I think what has happened now is with all the eyes of the world and and the politicians being consumed by the health care crisis, the state has had a very limited ability to control what's going out in very remote areas. So illegal loggers and illegal miners have been able to stride deeper and deeper into the rainforest. The government is aware of this and it's set in motion a military response.

    But most experts think it's going to be insufficient to truly rein in the driving forces of deforestation, which is expected to reach pretty alarming levels this year. Experts are predicting that the virus season this year is going to eclipse what we saw last year.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Ernesto Londoño from The New York Times joining us from Brazil. Thanks so much.

  • Ernesto Londoño:

    Always a pleasure.

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