Former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said he told President Jair Bolsonaro to listen to science to fight the virus.

Brazil’s former health minister said in a parliamentary inquiry that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro ignored repeated warnings that his approach to COVID-19 could lead to the collapse of the nation’s healthcare system South American.

Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was sacked in April 2020 by Bolsonaro for not agreeing to push hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, as a treatment for the coronavirus, testified Tuesday before a senatorial commission charged with investigating the management of the pandemic by the Brazilian government.

“We specifically recommended that the president change his position. We told him it could lead to the collapse of the health care system, ”Mandetta said.

“I have systematically warned Bolsonaro 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 for prescribing hydroxychloroquine to fight against the coronavirus.

He said he was called to a cabinet meeting with the president, where there were plans to change the official indications for use of the drug to say it could be prescribed for COVID-19.

Antonio Barra Torres, chairman of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, who was also present at the meeting, said it could not be done. “The government knew it was prescribing chloroquine without any scientific evidence,” Mandetta said.

The Brazilian Senate opened an investigation in the management of the pandemic by Bolsonaro on April 27, a few days before the country exceeded 400,000 deaths linked to the virus.

More than 408,000 people have died in Brazil to date, according to data from Johns Hopkins University – the second highest total in the world after the United States – and public health experts warn another deadly wave could to be coming.

Bolsonaro, who has avoided public health restrictions and dismissed the virus as just a “little flu”, faces increased pressure to explain the high number of COVID-19 deaths and infections.

A protester carries a banner that reads: “Bolsonaro, it’s your fault! Genocide ‘during a demonstration against the management of the pandemic by the president [File: Bruno Kelly/Reuters]

But the former army captain is still refusing to adopt more stringent public health measures, such as lockdowns, to stem the spread of the virus.

The Senate probe will examine how Bolsonaro’s policies contributed to the crisis.

Bolsonaro is now his fourth health minister since the crisis began, and all four are due to testify before the Senate committee, which has a renewable 90-day mandate.

Although he continues to face much criticism, Bolsonaro the contributors turned out in large numbers in several Brazilian cities over the weekend to show their support for the president.

“This is a critical moment and Bolsonaro needs the support of the people,” Edvaldo de Paulo, a protester who appeared to be in his 60s, told AFP news agency in Brasilia on Saturday.

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