In the photo, pedestrians wearing masks walk on the streets of the city of São Paulo.
In the photo, pedestrians wearing masks walk on the streets of the city of São Paulo. Photo: Rovena Rosa/Agencia Brasil

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected Brazil's different regions?

Nationwide figures often do not tell the full story of trends in Brazil, a country which is vastly diverse from north to south. We lay out a number of important indicators separated by region

Brazil is a vast country, with immense diversity among its regions, states, and cities. The population of the state of São Paulo, for example, is 74 times that of northern state Roraima. The Federal District — where capital city Brasília is located — enjoys a Human Development Index (HDI) similar to Portugal. Meanwhile, in northeastern states Alagoas and Maranhão, the index is the same as Iraq. Therefore, when we deal with nationwide statistics in Brazil, enormous regional differences are often masked. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil’s GDP is expected to fall around at least 6 percent this year. But such a unique situation as this coronavirus epidemic — with its myriad social, political, and economic consequences — has different effects depending on which part of Brazil you are looking at.

Below we have laid out five crucial indicators to illustrate the current moment in Brazil. Crucially, however, they are all split into the country’s different regions or, where possible, states.

Economic activity

Every month, Brazil’s Central Bank publishes its economic activity index (IBC-Br) which is taken as a trustworthy predictor of GDP figures, which are only released months later. In the latest figures, corresponding to the month of May, we saw a modest increase in relation to April, but a profound 11.43 percent fall in comparison to March 2020 — considerably below analysts’ expectations. 

Approaching this data through a regional lens allows us to examine the trends in more detail. In order to do this, however, we will have to step back to the figures for April 2020, as the latest update for May includes only nationwide trends.

When we look at the accumulated losses between February and April in all Brazilian regions, the more populous Southeast, South and Northeast suffered falls of around 10 percent, while the Center-West region fared much better. Famous for its agribusiness and exports, the Center-West only lost around 4 percent of economic activity in the first two months of the pandemic.

Retail sales

Commerce figures have been on something of a rollercoaster since the beginning of the pandemic. In April, the retail sales index had its most profound drop on record, followed by the highest increase in history in May. However, when we compare these figures to last year, the overall impact of the pandemic becomes clearer.

When looking at a state-by-state comparison between March, April, and May of 2019 and 2020, the drop-offs are significant. In states such as Ceará, Rondônia, and Amapá, sales plunged by around 30 percent.

Formal jobs

Recessions invariably lead to people losing their jobs. Indeed, in March, April, and May of this year, the country lost 1.48 million formal job positions, according to the General Register of Employed and Unemployed Persons (Caged) — the indicator that monitors every formal hire and dismissal in Brazil.

This means 3.8 percent of all formal job positions in Brazil have been lost. Compared to the total number of posts in each state, the impact was particularly large on states in Brazil’s South, as well as Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco.

Emergency financial aid

Despite the worrying figures of formal unemployment, this only goes part of the way in telling the full story of Brazil’s veritable job apocalypse amid the pandemic. Around 40 million people in the country work in unregistered jobs, and, during the Covid-19 crisis, the government was forced to act in order to provide them with aid. A monthly coronavirus emergency salary aims to pay every Brazilian with no income during the quarantine. 

All over the country, as of this Friday, 65,2 million people have received the BRL 600 aid (USD 112) emergency aid. Using the data from some days ago, when 53.9 million had received the financial aid it is possible to see that some regions are much more dependent on aid than others. In the southern state of Santa Catarina, less than 20 percent of the adults received the benefit, while over 40 percent in Roraima have been given the money.

Presidential approval 

For several reasons, the Covid-19 pandemic is the worst crisis of Jair Bolsonaros administration. After dismissing the severity of the disease and focusing on jobs and economy as opposed to health, the president has lost support from voters. But at the same time, part of this decrease has been offset by bumps in popularity in surprising regions, such as the Northeast.

According to pollster Datafolha, Jair Bolsonaro’s approval ratings have increased in the Northeast region — which is most dependent on the emergency aid — and Center-West, which has the best economic numbers among Brazilian regions. On the other hand, Bolsonaro lost support in the North and Southeast, where the highest number of coronavirus cases have been seen.

Another poll, by Ideia Big Data, also shows the president’s soaring popularity. His overall rejection has dropped from 50 to 45 percent over the past month. Considering the confidence interval, the improvement is not that significant — still, it is outside of the margin of error and indicates a positive trend for Bolsonaro. Mauricio Moura, chief executive officer at the polling company, told The Brazilian Report the reason: “it is thanks to the coronavirus emergency salary.”

This article was originally published on The Brazilian Report, a website that explains Brazilian politics and economics to foreign audiences.