The Senate of Brazil installed in April a commission to investigate possible omissions by the government of Jair Bolsonaro in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which left more than 600,000 dead in the country.
In five months, lawmakers summoned dozens of witnesses and revealed a series of behind-the-scenes flaws in managing the health emergency that could have criminal and political consequences for the president and other members of the government.
These are their findings:
1.- Lack of oxygen in Manaus
Senators delved into responsibilities during the oxygen shortage in the Amazon city of Manaos last january.
The lack of oxygen resulted in scenes of desperate families lining up to supply their coronavirus-infected loved ones, and dozens of deaths from suffocation amid a second wave of covid-19 aggravated by the Gama variant.
Former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello blamed the distribution company and local health authorities for not having warned in time that oxygen would be lacking.
The government also claimed to have made the budget available to the state of Amazonas to deal with the pandemic.
“It was not money that was lacking, it was oxygen. Due to logistical problems, the incompetence of the federal government, local authorities and many others ”, said Omar Aziz, president of the investigative commission, the ICC.
2.- Delay in purchasing vaccines
Pfizer’s executive director for Latin America told the ICC that the government ignored at least three offers of 70 million doses against the coronavirus in August 2020.
The acquisition would have allowed Brazil to start its vaccination campaign a month in advance, in December, as in most European countries.
Brazil began its campaign slowly in mid-January 2021 with the Chinese immunizer Coronavac, discredited by Jair Bolsonaro, and AstraZeneca. The first doses of Pfizer arrived in April.
3.- Suspicions of corruption
The commission identified irregularities in the negotiations between the Ministry of Health and Precisa Medicamentos, which claimed to be the representative of the Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech.
The director of the Import Department of the Ministry of Health, Ricardo Miranda, reported having suffered “atypical pressure” to seal a purchase contract for millions of doses of the Covaxin vaccine that he considered overvalued.
Miranda and his brother, Congressman Luis Miranda, met personally with Bolsonaro to inform him of the suspicions. The president promised to take the matter to the authorities but did not do so, so he was investigated for prevarication.
4- “Early treatment”
The ICC investigates the connections between Brasilia and private health operators in the promotion of “early treatment” against covid-19 with ineffective drugs, according to science, such as hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, and azithromycin.
The main accusations fall on the operator Prevent Senior, suspected of applying experimental treatments with these drugs without the consent of patients, and pressuring doctors to prescribe them.
In addition, it would have disguised statistics of those cases, reporting two deaths related to covid-19 instead of nine.
The company, which offers health insurance and has its own network of hospitals, has more than 540,000 affiliates nationwide, according to official data.
“I am a living witness of these criminal practices”Tadeu Andrade, 65, who received the ‘covid kit’ at home after a telemedicine consultation, told the ICC.
A week later, his health deteriorated and he was hospitalized in a Prevent Senior facility. His family was later informed that his condition was terminal and that he would be placed in palliative care.
But his relatives questioned this diagnosis and demanded that he continue to receive treatment. Andrade finally recovered.
“These patients became guinea pigs when they were in a situation of extreme vulnerability”, Bruna Morato, a lawyer for 12 doctors who denounced Prevent Senior’s practices, told AFP. The firm denies wrongdoing.
The ICC suspects the company’s ties to a “parallel cabinet” of the Bolsonaro government that was trying to impose “early treatment” to avoid restrictions that would affect economic activity.