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After Bolsonaro Labels Coronavirus a ‘Little Flu,’ Brazil’s State Governors Defy President’s Call to Reopen Businesses, Schools

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(SAO PAULO) — Brazil’s governors are defying President Jair Bolsonaro over his call to reopen schools and businesses, dismissing his argument that the “cure” of widespread shutdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus is worse than the disease.

Bolsonaro contends that the clampdown already ordered by many governors will deeply wound the already beleaguered economy and spark social unrest. In a nationally televised address Tuesday night, he urged governors to limit isolation only to high-risk people and lift the strict anti-virus measures they have imposed in their regions.

“What needs to be done? Put the people to work. Preserve the elderly, preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that,” said Bolsonaro, who in the past has sparked anger by calling the virus a “little flu.”

The country’s governors protested on Wednesday that his instructions run counter to health experts’ recommendations and endanger Latin America’s largest population. They said they would continue with their strict measures. The rebellion even included traditional allies of Brazil’s far-right president.

Read more: Mapping the Spread of the Coronavirus Outbreak Around the U.S. and the World

Gov. Carlos Moisés of Santa Catarina state, which gave almost 80% of its votes to Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential runoff, complained he was “blown away” by the president’s instructions. Moisés said he would insist that all residents stay home during the pandemic despite the president’s stand.

In a videoconference earlier in the day between Bolsonaro and governors from Brazil’s southeast region, Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria threatened to sue the federal government if it tried to interfere with his efforts to combat the virus, according to video of their private meeting reviewed by The Associated Press.

Wagner Meier—Getty ImagesTourists pose for a photo in front of a sealed off Selaron Steps during a lockdown aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“We are here, the four governors of the southeast region, in respect for Brazil and Brazilians and in respect for dialogue and understanding,” said Doria, who supported Bolsonaro’s 2018 presidential bid. “But you are the president and you have to set the example. You have to be the representative to command, guide and lead this country, not divide it.”

Bolsonaro responded by accusing Doria of riding his coattails to the governorship, then turning his back. “If you don’t get in the way, Brazil will take off and emerge from the crisis. Stop campaigning,” the president said.

The governors weren’t the only defiant ones. Virus plans challenged by Bolsonaro were upheld by the Supreme Court. The heads of both congressional houses criticized his televised speech. Companies donated supplies to state anti-virus efforts.

Bolsonaro told reporters in the capital, Brasilia, that he has listened to his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, and found their perspectives to be rather similar.

He has found some support among his base — #BolsonaroIsRight trended atop Brazilian Twitter on Wednesday — thought that backing has been countered by a week of nightly protests from many Brazilians respecting the self-isolation rules who lean from their windows to bang pots and pans.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, though, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

As of Wednesday, Brazil had about 2,400 confirmed cases and 57 deaths related to the outbreak. Experts say the figures could soar in April, potentially causing a collapse of the country’s health care system. There is particular concern the virus’ potential damage in the ultra-dense, low-income neighborhoods known as favelas.

Bolsonaro’s administration has also faced criticism from economists, including Armínio Fraga, a former central bank governor, and Claudio Ferraz, a professor at Rio de Janeiro’s Pontifical Catholic University. “Brazil is seeing something unique, an insurrection of governors,” Ferraz wrote on Twitter. “This will become a new topic in political science: checks and balances by governors in a Federal System.”

Rio de Janeiro Gov. Wilson Witzel, another former ally of Bolsonaro, also told the president in the videoconference that he won’t heed the call to loosen social distancing protocols. Last week, Witzel announced he would shut down airports and interstate roads, which Bolsonaro annulled by decree contending that only the federal government can adopt such measures. By the time the president took to the airwaves Tuesday evening, a Supreme Court justice had ruled in favor of Witzel.

A Day in Rio de Janeiro as the City Begins to Shut Down
Wagner Meier—Getty ImagesGeneral view of an empty Copacabana Beach during a lockdown aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Two days earlier Brazil’s top court issued another ruling allowing Sao Paulo state to stop repaying federal government debt amounting to $400 million so that it can beef up its health sector. The decision may set a precedent for other states.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic engine, is home to the majority of the coronavirus cases. It has been under partial lockdown since Tuesday, and schools, universities and non-essential businesses have mostly been closed for more than 10 days. Rio state has adopted similar measures, including closing its beaches.

Gov. Ronaldo Caiado of Goiás state, a physician who had been a close Bolsonaro ally, participated in a meeting late Wednesday of nearly all Brazilian governors to coordinate their efforts. The federal government wasn’t invited. Caiado told reporters he is redefining his relationship with Bolsonaro.

“I cannot allow the president to wash his hands and hold others responsible for the coming economic collapse and loss of jobs,” Caiado said. “That is not the behavior of a leader.”

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Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese reported this story in Sao Paulo and AP writer David Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro.





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Bangladesh Garment Makers Say $3 Billion in Orders Lost Due to Coronavirus

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(DHAKA, Bangladesh) — Bangladesh garment manufacturers says fashion retailers have cancelled or put on hold more than $3 billion in orders due to the coronavirus outbreak, though a handful have agreed to pay anyway.

The data from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association released Monday reflected both orders already made or in the works and planned orders from the country, which is the world’s second largest exporter of clothing after China.

The cancelled orders, according to reports to the BGMEA from manufacturers, included tens of millions in purchases from many big buyers, including European buyers C&A and Inditex, Primark of Ireland, Britain’s Marks & Spencer and Tesco and U.S. retailers like Walmart and Target.

Bangladesh is just beginning to feel the direct impact of the pandemic and its government has ordered a shut down of most businesses to help contain it. But shocks to the country’s export markets have been cascading into its economy for weeks.

A survey of factory owners in Bangladesh released Friday showed millions of Bangladesh factory workers being sent home without the wages or severance pay they are owed.

The BGMEA reported that $1.8 billion in orders have been put on hold and another $1.4 billion have been cancelled. Cancellations of planned orders, for April-December, amounted to nearly $1.7 billion, it said. The figures are conservative because they exclude orders that would go to multiple buyers.

The new data were incorporated into a report by Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights and the Worker Rights Consortium, a Washington, D.C.-based labor rights organization,.

Bangladesh manufacturers and labor groups have been appealing to big retailers to honor their commitments to suppliers.

Sweden’s H&M has said it will pay suppliers for orders already under production.

PVH, which owns the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Heritage brands, has told suppliers it is releasing invoices that had been put on hold since March 18. Later invoices will gradually be processed.

The commitment for orders already under production or finished products not yet shipped would enable factory owners to get financing to tide them over, said a letter to suppliers seen by The Associated Press.

“PVH and H&M are doing the right thing, in contrast to the long list of brands refusing to pay for goods workers have already made for them,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium.

Big Western brands came under heavy pressure to improve conditions in factories after huge fires and other disasters killed hundreds of workers.

The store closures and other disruptions from the virus outbreak are straining a fragile supply chain in which big buyers have been squeezing their suppliers for years.

More than 1 million of the more than 4 million garment workers in Bangladesh already have lost their jobs or have been furloughed because of order cancellations and the failure of buyers to pay for canceled shipments.

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AP Asia Business Editor Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok.





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Kremlin Fights U.S. Sanctions, Backs Maduro in Rosneft Deal

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(Bloomberg) — The Kremlin’s sudden shift of ownership of multi-billion-dollar oil projects in Venezuela shields oil giant Rosneft PJSC from further U.S. sanctions but keeps Moscow firmly behind embattled President Nicolas Maduro amid a wider stand-off with Washington.“Russia is not walking away from Maduro and will seek to thwart U.S. efforts to depose him,” said Vladimir Frolov, a former diplomat and foreign policy analyst in Moscow. “Moscow is just shielding Rosneft from sanctions which could result in a blanket embargo on all Rosneft exports.”Fears of broader sanctions have grown after the U.S. in recent months slapped restrictions on Rosneft trading companies for handling business with Venezuela. More recently, the U.S. has hinted that it might step up pressure on the Russian oil sector to reduce production. That followed Moscow’s decision early this month not to deepen output cuts agreed with OPEC led Saudi Arabia to boost output, flooding the market and pushing prices to the lowest levels in decades.The administration of President Donald Trump has already reached out to Saudi leaders to reconsider their strategy, which has battered producers in the U.S. with low prices.Read: Putin and MBS Draw Trump Into Grudge Match for Oil SupremacyRosneft late Saturday announced it’s turning over its Venezuelan projects to an unnamed state-owned company in what it called an effort to protect its shareholders’ interests. Rosneft, which produces 40% of Russian oil and 5% of world output and has substantial exposure in the western financial system, can’t afford the risk of broad U.S. sanctions that could cripple its operations. Earlier this month, a Chinese company said it wouldn’t buy crude from Rosneft because of the risks caused by the sanctions on the trading companies.“As recently as February, the Venezuelan business was profitable, which offset the sanctions risk,” said Ivan Timofeyev, an analyst at the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council. “Now the desire to avoid sanctions coincided with the need to avoid losses” after oil prices plunged, he added.The Russian giant has already cut its exposure under multi-billion-dollar prepayment deals reached several years ago. Venezuela’s oil producer PDVSA owes Rosneft only $800 million at the end of the third quarter of 2019, according to the last available data, down from $4.6 billion at the end of 2017.Sanctions ProtectionThe latest Russian maneuver mirrored its strategy in 2018 when it used Promsvzyabank to set up a new banking vehicle to serve the defense industry after state-owned weapons producers came under U.S. sanctions, thereby shielding the country’s two largest banks, government-controlled Sberbank and VTB. Unlike those big lenders, which have significant exposure to western financial institutions and thus are at risk from sweeping U.S. sanctions, the new special entity operated largely out of Washington’s reach.While Rosneft may even push to have the recently imposed sanctions on the trading units lifted, risks remain.“Rosneft is trying to stay out of the firing-line but nothing stops the Americans from finding another pretext to sanction it,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a research group in Moscow that advises the Kremlin.“Russia understands that Maduro is in an awful situation, especially with oil prices at rock bottom,” he said. “But Putin’s psychology is that you should stick with partners in difficulty.”Maduro said on state TV on Saturday evening that ”President Putin sent me a message through his ambassador reaffirming their strategic and integral support to Venezuela in all areas.”Rosneft StakeFrolov said, “Moscow thinks that Maduro is actually winning the fight with the opposition and is likely to split it to the point where he would be able to win parliamentary elections this year.” Russia has backed Maduro even as the U.S. and its allies back opposition leader Juan Guaido.For Rosneft, the deal also could give management, led by Igor Sechin, its influential chief executive, greater control, since the company is receiving 9.6% of its own shares in the transaction. That may mean the government’s share in Rosneft falls below a controlling stake, according to Andrey Polischuk, Moscow-based analyst for Raiffeisenbank.Neither the company nor the government would comment on whether the deal will bring state ownership below 50%.“Sechin gets Rosneft shares and Putin gets the chance to trade with Trump,” said Konstantin Simonov, head of the National Energy Security Fund in Moscow.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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Iran Defends Its COVID-19 Response, Citing Economic Concerns

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president on Sunday lashed out at criticism of the country’s lagging response to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, saying the government has to weigh economic concerns as it takes measures to contain the pandemic.

Hassan Rouhani said authorities had to consider the effect of mass quarantine efforts on Iran’s beleaguered economy, which is under heavy U.S. sanctions. It’s a dilemma playing out across the globe, as leaders struggle to strike a balance between restricting human contact and keeping their economies from crashing.

“Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting. “We must put these principles together to reach a final decision.”

“This is not the time to gather followers,” he added. “This is not a time for political war.”

Even before the pandemic, Rouhani was under fire for the unraveling of the 2015 nuclear deal he concluded with the United States and other world powers. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement and has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran that prevent it from selling oil on international markets. Iran has rejected U.S. offers of humanitarian aid.

State TV on Sunday reported another 123 deaths, pushing Iran’s overall toll to 2,640 amid 38,309 confirmed cases.

Most people suffer only minor symptoms, such as fever and coughing, and recover within a few weeks. But the virus can cause severe illness and death, especially in elderly patients or those with underlying health problems. It is highly contagious, and can be spread by those showing no symptoms.

In recent days, Iran has ordered the closure of nonessential businesses and banned travel between cities. But those measures came long after other countries in the region imposed more sweeping lockdowns. Many Iranians are still flouting orders to stay home in what could reflect widespread distrust of authorities.

Iran has urged the international community to lift sanctions and is seeking a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Elsewhere in the region, Qatar reported its first death from the new coronavirus late Saturday, saying the total number of reported cases there was at least 590.

The tiny, energy-rich nation said it flew 31 Bahrainis stranded in Iran into Doha on a state-run Qatar Airways flight. But since Bahrain is one of four Arab countries that have been boycotting Qatar in a political dispute since 2017, Doha said it could not fly the 31 onward to the island kingdom.

“Bahraini officials have said they will send a flight for them at some undefined point in the future,” the Qatari government said in a statement.

Bahrain said it planned a flight Sunday to pick up the stranded passengers. The kingdom said it had its own repatriation flights scheduled for those still stuck in Iran and warned Qatar that it “should stop interfering with these flights.”

In Egypt, at least 1,200 Sudanese are stranded at the border after Sudan closed all its crossings, according to Egyptian officials at one of the crossings. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

Sudan, which is still reeling from the uprising that toppled President Omar al-Bashir last year, has five confirmed cases, including one fatality. It’s one of several countries in the region where the health care system has been degraded by years of war and sanctions. Authorities closed the borders to prevent any further spread.

Sudan’s Information Minister Faisal Saleh said Sudanese authorities are looking for lodging in Egypt for the stranded passengers. He said authorities have quarantined at least 160 undocumented migrants who were sent into Sudan from war-torn Libya earlier this month.

Residents in Egypt’s southern city of Luxor say they are providing shelter to the stranded Sudanese.

“We have provided food and medicine to the Sudanese brothers,” said Mahmoud Abdel-Rahim, a local farmer. “People hosted women, children and elders in their homes.”

Egypt, which has reported 576 cases and 36 fatalities, imposed restrictions on cash deposits and withdrawals to prevent crowding at banks as payrolls and pensions are disbursed. Authorities began imposing a nighttime curfew last week.

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Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Samy Magdy in Cairo and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed.





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