Brazil’s former health minister has told a parliamentary inquiry that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro ignored repeated warnings that his approach to COVID-19 could cause the health system to collapse in the South American nation.
Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was fired in April 2020 by Bolsonaro for not agreeing to push the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment, testified on Tuesday before a Senate commission investigating the Brazilian government’s handling of the pandemic.
“We expressly recommended the president change his stance. We told him it could cause the health system to collapse,” Mandetta said.
“I warned Bolsonaro systematically of the consequences of not adopting the recommendations of science to fight COVID-19.”
The former minister also said Bolsonaro knew there was no scientific basis to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to combat the coronavirus.
He said he was called to a cabinet meeting with the president, where there was a plan to change the official indications for use of the drug to say it could be prescribed for COVID-19.
Antonio Barra Torres, president of Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa, who was also at the meeting, said that could not be done. “The government was aware that it was prescribing chloroquine without any scientific evidence,” Mandetta said.
More than 408,000 people have died in Brazil to date, according to Johns Hopkins University data – the second-highest total in the world after the United States – and public health experts are warning that another deadly wave could be coming.
Bolsonaro, who has eschewed public health restrictions and dismissed the virus as just a “little flu”, is facing increased pressure to account for the high numbers of COVID-19 deaths and infections.
But the former army captain still refuses to adopt stricter public health measures, such as lockdowns, to stem the spread of the virus.
The Senate probe will examine how Bolsonaro’s policies have contributed to the crisis.
Bolsonaro is now on his fourth health minister since the crisis began and all four are due to testify before the Senate commission, which has a 90-day renewable mandate.
Despite continuing to face widespread criticism, Bolsonaro’s backers turned out in large numbers in several Brazilian cities over the weekend to show their support for the president.
“It’s a critical moment and Bolsonaro needs the people’s support,” Edvaldo de Paulo, a demonstrator who looked to be in his 60s, told the AFP news agency in Brasilia on Saturday.