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The Toll of Bolsonaro’s Disastrous Covid-19 Response

Brazil’s President Held to Task by Critical Pandemic Report

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro holds a drug he recommended to treat Covid-19 during a Facebook live event in April 2020. That drug has no proven effect against the virus. © The image is a screenshot of a video posted on President Bolsonaro's Facebook account

A Brazilian Senate committee yesterday approved on a 1,100-page report that lays bare what happens when a country’s president adopts policies with utter disregard for human rights during a pandemic.

The report was the result of months of hearings and investigation by the committee into the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It portrays a president who turned his back on science and endangered the health and lives of Brazilians.

Covid-19 has killed more than 600,000 Brazilians, but thousands of those deaths could have been avoided, evidence presented in the report indicates.

President Jair Bolsonaro spread false information about Covid-19, opposed social distancing, refused to wear masks, and routinely shook hands with crowds of supporters. His ultimate goal, the report concluded, was rapid contagion so that Brazil would reach herd immunity.

He not only refused to follow World Health Organization recommendations to protect public health, but he sought to block Congress and local officials from following guidelines. For instance, in July 2020, he vetoed legal provisions to make mask wearing mandatory in churches and in Brazil’s overcrowded prisons.

An episode in Amazonas state in January 2021 encapsulates the tragic consequences of those policies. In late 2020, local officials had warned the federal government of an impending shortage of oxygen, but instead of securing supply, the Bolsonaro administration sent drugs that have no proven effect against the virus, the report said. When the oxygen ran out, dozens of Covid-19 patients died.

The government sent the same unproven drugs to Indigenous people, the investigative committee found. It drafted a plan to protect them from Covid-19 only after repeated orders by the Supreme Court.

The report showed that the Bolsonaro administration did not respond to several offers of vaccines from the Butantan Institute – a research center owned by the São Paulo state government. The report also included testimony showing that Bolsonaro was presented with some evidence of corruption in one vaccine procurement contract. A witness said Bolsonaro committed to report the case to federal police, “but that did not happen,” the report said.

The report recommended a variety of criminal charges against Bolsonaro and other officials, as well as his impeachment. The attorney general, who was appointed by Bolsonaro and has been widely criticized for allegedly taking decisions favoring the president, should examine the strong evidence uncovered by the committee very seriously.


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