Brazil’s top court OKs probe into handling of COVID-19 in Manaus

Surge in infections and hospitalisations is overwhelming health system in capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state.

Health workers transport a patient at Getulio Vargas hospital amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Manaus, on January 14 [Bruno Kelly/Reuters]

A Brazilian Supreme Court justice has approved an investigation into the health minister’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Amazonian city of Manaus, where the health system has been pushed to its limits by a surge in infections.

Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski approved a probe into Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello’s response to the situation in Manaus, the Reuters news agency reported, citing a court document released on Monday.

Attorney General Augusto Aras will have 60 days to carry out the investigation, the document stated, while Pazuello will have five days to give testimony to federal police.

The Brazilian government has faced widespread criticism and protests over how it has responded to the pandemic. The country has reported more than 8.8 million cases of COVID-19 to date and more than 217,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But the situation in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s northwest state of Amazons, and the government’s handling of the crisis there has been especially alarming to many.

The city’s hospitals are stretched thin and families have scrambled to find oxygen to help COVID-positive loved ones amid a surge in infections during the second wave of the pandemic.

A lack of oxygen prompted Brazil to airlift supplies to Amazonas earlier this month.

A potentially more transmissible variant of COVID-19 was also discovered in the state, creating concerns from doctors and public health experts that it could spread to other parts of the country, as well.

Aras, the attorney general, had asked the Supreme Court to approve the investigation after citing a document that said the health ministry knew of dwindling oxygen stocks in Manaus hospitals on January 8, but did not start dispatching extra supplies until four days later.

Protests against Bolsonaro

Protesters denounced President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, on the weekend for his government’s handling of the pandemic and a rocky start to COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts.

Brazil approved two vaccines – from China’s Sinovac Biotech and the UK’s AstraZeneca – for emergency use earlier this month, but it has faced delays in the delivery of active ingredients to produce the doses it needs to inoculate people.

Bolsonaro on Monday thanked China for rapidly approving the export of enough active ingredients to produce about 8.5 million doses of Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine being made in Sao Paulo.

People protest against Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of the COVID crisis, in Sao Paulo, on January 23 [Amanda Perobelli/Reuters]

Bolsonaro tweeted that China has also fast-tracked approval for supplies of active ingredients to make AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil.

Brazil’s federally funded Fiocruz Institute, which has a deal with AstraZeneca to produce up to 100 million doses of its vaccine, said on Monday it expected China to send the active ingredient needed to make the shots locally around February 8.

It had previously said it could deliver finished doses in March, but now says it will wait for the Chinese shipment before giving a more specific timeframe.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies