Update on the Coronavirus Situation in Brazil

March 25, 2020

On March 20, 2020, the Brazilian Ministry of Health declared a state of community transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the national territory. This declaration states the urgent need to reduce the transmission and health impacts of COVID-19 by remaining in self-isolation for 14 days when experiencing symptoms. Also, this declaration urges individuals over 60 years of age to practice social distancing (Ministry of Health, 2020). Finally, this declaration made federal funds available for use against the pandemic (Horwitz, et. al., 2020). The official recognition of the community transmission of COVID-19 came as a direct result of the substantial number of cases of COVID-19 in Brazil. Specifically, on March 20, Brazil had 904 confirmed cases in 24 states. There were also 11 total recorded deaths at the time from both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (BBC News, 2020). However, health officials have described that it is extremely likely that there are many unknown cases of COVID-19 due to mild symptoms of the virus that go undetected. President Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized heavily by Brazilians for his limited intervention against the spread of the virus. He has dismissed the significance of the coronavirus—labeling the concerns of Brazilians as part of a “hysteria” (BBC News, 2020). The fear comes from the concern for the potential health impacts of the virus, but also a concern for the healthcare system that is fragile and not adequately prepared for a massive outbreak (Rodriguez-Morales, et. al., 2020).

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Brazil was a 61-year-old man on February 26, 2020 (Horwitz, et. al., 2020). This man had traveled to Lombardy, Italy from February 9 to 20 (Rodriguez-Morales, et. al., 2020). Then, on March 17, Brazil recorded its first death concerning a 62-year-old man in São Paulo. While Brazil recorded these “firsts,” the number of confirmed cases were rising at a shocking rate. On March 10, there were 34 confirmed cases. However, on March 18, there were 529 confirmed cases—over 15 times the cases of March 10. The next day, March 19, there were 621 confirmed cases (Horwitz, et. al., 2020). The most recent figures were published on March 21, as the Ministry of Health confirmed that there were 1,128 patients with 18 recorded deaths (Berti, 2020). These figures demonstrate how quickly the virus is spreading in Brazil.

In addition to the above declaration, the Brazilian government has taken additional measures to fight COVID-19. For example, on March 12, the Ministry of Health created 5,000 vacancies for new doctors and added 2,000 ICU beds in an effort to support Brazil’s capacity to fight the virus (Horwitz, et. al., 2020). Additionally, on March 19 the government banned citizens of the European Union, Australia, China, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom from entering Brazil for 30 days. Also, on March 19, the government restricted foreign entry at all Brazilian land borders for 15 days (Horwitz, et. al., 2020). Brazilian companies are contributing to the government’s efforts by donating test kits to help identify COVID-19 cases (Berti, 2020). However, the virus is spreading quickly despite these efforts due to the high concentration of people in major cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. 

Specifically, the coronavirus will be a major challenge in the poorer regions of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where people live in compacted neighborhoods. With over 23 million people, São Paulo alone is the most populated city in South America (Rodriguez-Morales, et. al., 2020). São Paulo’s state governor, Joao Doria declared a 15-day quarantine will begin on March 24, during which all non-essential stores will close. This is the first region of Brazil to quarantine or initiate any formal shut-down to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 (Marques, 2020). São Paulo is the region with the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in Brazil, with 459 confirmed cases and 15 deaths. President Bolsonaro heavily criticized Brazilian leaders like Doria, arguing that their measures are too extreme. However, it is clear that São Paulo is taking the necessary measures to contain the virus in this extremely populous region. 

Additionally, São Paulo is a major economic hub in Brazil, with businesses and services accounting for approximately 30% of the economy. With the mandatory quarantine, Brazil’s economy will be further burdened. Specifically, a paper published by the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) demonstrated that the worst-case scenario for Brazil’s economy would involve a GDP reduction of 4.4 percent in 2020 (Paraguassu and Eisenhammer, 2020). However, the Brazilian Minister of the Economy introduced a stimulus package of more than $29 billion to help ease the burden of corporate taxes, provide more funding to social assistance payments, and ensure workers’ access to severance funds (Horwitz, et. al., 2020). China is one of Brazil’s main trading partners, and news of the coronavirus in China reduced the Brazilian stock market by 7 percent (Horwitz, et. al., 2020). Additionally, economists anticipate that Brazil will enter a recession. However, Latin American countries that are less developed than Brazil will face more of an economic burden from COVID-19. 

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Brazil had developed protocols for major health crises as a result of SARS and the 2009 Pandemic Flu. These protocols include specific laboratory and patient management procedures and may help to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases. However, fear persists regarding the potential impact of COVID-19 due to the inadequate healthcare system in Brazil, which is restricted by the limited number of ICU beds and sufficient equipment (Rodriguez-Morales, et. al., 2020). Brazil is not alone with its limited healthcare resources, as other nations with major outbreaks face the same challenge—finding enough resources to reduce the transmission and provide care to all patients.


  1. Luisa Horwitz, Paola Nagovitch, Holly K. Sonneland, Carin Zissis. (March 24, 2020). "Where Is the Coronavirus in Latin America?". Americas Society / Council of the Americas.
  2. Lucas Berti. (March 25, 2020). "Crisis unfolding: Bolsonaro loses support from powerful ally". The Brazilian Report.
  3. Lisandra Paraguassu, Stephen Eisenhammer . (March 20, 2020). "Brazil cuts growth, sees coronavirus quickly ravaging health system".
  4. Alfonso J.Rodriguez-Morales, Viviana Gallego, Juan Pablo Escalera-Antezana , Claudio A.Méndez, Lysien I. Zambrano , Carlos Franco-Paredes, Jose A. Suárez , Hernan D.Rodriguez-Enciso , Graciela Josefina Balbin-Ramon, Eduardo Savio-Larriera , Alejandro Risquez, Sergio Cimerman. (February 29, 2020). "COVID-19 in Latin America: The implications of the first confirmed case in Brazil".
  5. Brazilian Ministry of Health. (March 20, 2020). "Ministry of Health declares national community transmission".
  6. U.S. Army Photo. (March 2020). "Photo Credit: U.S. Army".

About Author(s)

Carley Clontz
Carley is an undergraduate senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Economics, Spanish, French, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies. Through academic and research programs, Carley has traveled to Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia. Her articles focus on human rights violations, economic and political developments, and systemic violence.