Jair Bolsonaro ignored repeated warnings that his anti-science response to Covid-19 was leading Brazil down an ‘extremely perilous path’ and endangering tens of thousands of lives, the country’s former health minister said .
Giving oral evidence at a Senate inquiry into the coronavirus calamity in Brazil on Tuesday, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who headed the health ministry at the start of the pandemic, said he believed the conduct of the Brazilian president had helped generate an unnecessarily large tragedy.
Asked by a senator whether Bolsonaro – whose sabotage of social distancing has been condemned worldwide – understood that ignoring the international scientific consensus on Covid containment measures could cause “death on an enormous scale” , Mandetta replied, “Yes, sir.
“I warned him systematically, even with projections,” added the 56-year-old doctor turned politician, the first witness to the investigation.
Shortly before being sacked in April last year, Mandetta claimed he warned Bolsonaro that 180,000 Brazilians could die by the end of the year unless restrictions are introduced by the federal government. They were not and by the end of the year 191,000 Brazilians had died.
“We have lost 11,000,” Mandetta told the inquest, which hopes Bolsonaro’s political enemies will extinguish his chances of re-election next year and ensure justice for the families of the dead.
The Covid emergency in Brazil turned from bad to worse in 2021, with the official death toll more than doubling to 408,000, the second highest number after the United States. Ahead of Mandetta’s testimony on Tuesday, the inquiry’s rapporteur, Renan Calheiros, said Brazil needed answers as to who was to blame for the “dire situation” facing America’s largest country. South.
The parliamentary inquiry was set up last week amid growing public anger over Bolsonaro’s handling of one of the world’s worst Covid epidemics, his refusal to impose lockdowns and the inability of his government to acquire enough vaccines.
In his inaugural session last week, Calheiros drew an indirect but unmistakable parallel between Bolsonaro and the “Balkan butcher” Slobodan Milosevic, who was on trial in The Hague. “There are culprits … and they will be held accountable,” Calheiros promised.
“The country has a right to know who contributed to all these thousands of deaths and these people must be punished immediately and in a symbolic way.”
Mandetta, who was fired after publicly defying his boss over the pandemic, defended his own response to what he called the ‘global attack’ of Covid. “We haven’t taken a single step that is not based on science,” Mandetta insisted, saying he had fought to secure medical supplies and convince Brazilians – including the president – of the need. physical distancing.
Bolsonaro, however, ignored this advice, instead lending an ear to aides and allies who downplayed the coronavirus, promoting ineffective remedies such as chloroquine and pushing the idea that Brazil could achieve collective immunity without shutting down its economy. One of those allies, right-wing Congressman Osmar Terra, claimed last April that the Brazilian epidemic was almost over.
Mandetta said: “I did everything I could have done to try to convince him not to take this extremely perilous path. [of rejecting scientific advice]. But he probably had other people tell him that what the Minister of Health was saying was wrong.
The former minister produced a three-page letter which he claimed to have given to Bolsonaro in March 2020, which concluded: “We expressly recommend that the presidency reconsider the position it has taken, in accordance with the directives of the Ministry of Health, since she took steps in the opposite direction. This direction could lead to the collapse of the health system and extremely serious consequences for the health of the population. “
Mandetta said he suspected Bolsonaro of being convinced that collective immunity could be obtained by allowing Covid to spread uncontrollably through the population “and only those who must die [such as the elderly], will die ”. Humberto Costa, a leftist politician who is one of 11 senators participating in the inquiry, said: “If this is true, it represents an absolutely criminal act.”
Bolsonaro still has the support of around a third of Brazilians, but appears shaken by the Senate investigation, with staunch supporters staging protests in several major cities last Saturday.
The investigation even led one of the president’s sons, Flávio Bolsonaro, to embrace the concept of social distancing as he tried to argue that his hearings should be postponed because it was too dangerous for senators to meet for debate the federal government’s Covid response. Four days later, Flávio Bolsonaro hailed thousands of Bolsonaro supporters for rallying on Copacabana beach in the yellow and green colors of his father’s far-right movement.