Brazil Tops 12 Million Covid-19 Cases as Bankers Urge Action

Brazil now counts over 12 million cases of coronavirus, and the country’s top banking and hedge fund executives, former central bank governors and key businessmen are urging political leaders to do more to fight the pandemic.

Figures including billionaire brothers Pedro and Joao Moreira Salles, co-owners of Itau Unibanco Holding, and Credit Suisse Group AG’s chief in Brazil Jose Olympio Pereira called the country “the global epicenter of Covid-19” in an open letter. The outlook, the group said, is becoming more alarming as health-care systems collapse amid a “desolate” economic and social situation.

Brazil Tops 12 Million Covid-19 Cases as Bankers Urge Action

“We’re on the edge of an explosive phase of the pandemic and it’s key that from now on, public policies be grounded in data, reliable information and scientific evidence,” said the letter. The recession “won’t be overcome until the pandemic is controlled by competent action from the federal government.”

The letter was signed by over 500 people, according to Thomas Conti, a professor at business school Insper, who said he helped craft the letter. The list also includes the nation’s most-renowned hedge fund manager, Luis Stuhlberger, Pedro Passos, co-founder of $13 billion beauty giant Natura&Co, Horacio Lafer Piva, a key shareholder of pulp and paper producer Klabin SA, Fersen Lambranho, chairman of private-equity firm GP Investments and Roberto Setubal, whose family controls Itau alongside the Moreira Salles. Former former central bank chiefs Ilan Goldfajn and Arminio Fraga have also signed.

Brazil Tops 12 Million Covid-19 Cases as Bankers Urge Action

The group defended speeding up vaccinations, the implementation of social-distancing measures, incentives for mask usage and the creation of a national mechanism to combat the coronavirus. Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo first released the letter contents’ on Sunday.

Brazil has registered more daily Covid-19 cases and deaths than ever as the country struggles with a more contagious variant and sees hospitals overrun. The Latin American nation trails only the U.S. in both counts, and registered 49,293 new Covid-19 infections over the last 24 hours, pushing the total toll to 12,047,526. Reported fatalities increased by 1,383 on Monday to 295,425, poised to surpass 300,000 this week.

The vaccination campaign, which was late to start and kicked off with only a few doses at hand, has deployed about 15.6 million shots so far, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That means 5.4% of Brazilians have received a first shot, and 1.9% have been fully inoculated.

The resurgence of the virus, which is leaving hospitals out of everything from oxygen to medicines needed to intubate patients, is adding pressure on the government to act. In a recent letter to clients, Verde’s Stuhlberger said the government “failed miserably” in acquiring vaccines.

“It’s unbelievably cheaper to buy vaccines than to boost fiscal spending, which comes with indebtedness, more inflation, higher rates, etc,” said the fund.

Businessmen have also expressed their worry. In a conference call with analysts and investors earlier this month, the head of retailer Magazine Luiza SA, Frederico Trajano, said the country seemed to be “back to square one” from a pandemic standpoint.

Brazil Tops 12 Million Covid-19 Cases as Bankers Urge Action

Last week, President Jair Bolsonaro appointed his fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic. But little has changed. Days later, Bolsonaro -- who has belittled the virus, saying the economic crisis triggered by social isolation measures will kill more people than the disease -- went to the Supreme Court to try to bar governors from tightening restrictions.

“The current scenario can deteriorate much more if there isn’t effective national coordination in support to governors and mayors to restrict mobility. While we try to shorten the timelines and boost the number of vaccine doses available, social distancing measures must urgently be reinforced,” the letter said.

The open letter said the federal government should support measures adopted by states and municipalities, adding that a national or regional lockdown should be considered. While the group stopped short of naming Bolsonaro, it didn’t mince words to bash his actions, which are responsible for “increasing the number of infections and deaths.”

“Political leaders, with access to media and social networks, the state’s resources, and who command attention, make a difference: for better or for worse,” the letter says. “Disdaining science, touting unproven treatments, fomenting crowds and flirting with the anti-vaccine movement has defined the country’s main political leadership.”

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