Brazil's health minister investigated for pandemic handling

By Gabriel Toueg

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AA) – After weeks of listening to the main players in the conduct of the pandemic in Brazil, a Senate investigative commission announced Friday that 14 people are now formally investigated by the actions and negligence in confronting COVID-19.

Current Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga, and two former ministers, Eduardo Pazuello (Health) and Ernesto Araujo (Foreign Affairs) are in the list.

Brazil already has almost 500,000 COVID-19 deaths and shows no signs of a slowdown in the contagion. The country has over 17 million cases. About 37% of the population took only the first dose of vaccines and just over 11% are fully immunized.

The Senate commission’s rapporteur, Renan Calheiros, said that Queiroga’s testimonies were “poor and ridiculous”.

“In his first statement, [Queiroga] tried to say he would have the autonomy that [Nelson] Teich and [Luiz Henrique] Mandetta lacked.

“The facts showed otherwise,” said Calheiros. Mandetta and Teich were both ministers before Pazuello and Queiroga.

The rapporteur also stated that Queiroga acquired batches of vaccines 20% more expensive than previous contracts, in addition to, in talks with the World Health Organization (WHO), having defended the so-called “early treatment”.

Pazuello will be investigated for negligence in the Manaus crisis earlier this year, when the city ran out of oxygen, leading to dozens of deaths, for suspicion of having propagated the thesis of “herd immunity” and for delays in negotiating vaccines.

Araujo is suspicious of failure in obtaining supplies for producing vaccines from abroad, mainly from China, after fighting the Asian country in an ideological confrontation on social networks. The Senate committee wants to find out whether his ideological line may have hindered talks.

Some of those now investigated are members of the so-called “parallel cabinet”, an informal advisory group, which operated outside the Health Ministry, to guide President Jair Bolsonaro in dealing with the crisis, such as doctors Nise Yamaguchi, advocate of hydroxychloroquine; Paolo Zanotto; and Luciano Dias Azevedo, who tried to change the leaflet for hydroxychloroquine.

According to Calheiros, there is already “enough evidence” gathered that justify the change in investigations. The commission now wants to summon Google and Facebook to explain their position on Bolsonaro’s lives, defending ideas and theories already discarded by science.

The others investigated are current coordinator of the National Immunization Program Francieli Fantinato; current Health Ministry’s secretary of Science, Technology, Innovation and Strategic Supplies Helio Angotti Neto; current Amazonas’ Health Secretary Marcellus Campelo; current secretary of Labor Management and Health Education Mayra Pinheiro; former Health Ministry’s executive secretary Elcio Franco; former Presidential advisor Arthur Weintraub; businessman Carlos Wizard; and former Presidential secretary of Social Communication Fabio Wajngarten.