Bolsonaro’s U-turn on hydroxychloroquine, explained

Bolsonaro's U-turn on hydroxychloroquine, explained
Jair Bolsonaro during a Facebook live broadcast. Photo: Facebook/Jair Bolsonaro

For months, President Jair Bolsonaro distinguished himself as the biggest proponent for the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. He took his cue from U.S. President Donald Trump, but even Mr. Trump eventually stopped touting the antimalarial drug — which has no proven efficacy against the coronavirus. Mr. Bolsonaro, however, has continued to beat the same drum.

Last week, upon announcing he had contracted Covid-19, the president credited an improvement in his symptoms to having taken hydroxychloroquine. On Wednesday, Mr. Bolsonaro had a whole different approach to a pill he once called a “possible cure” that would stop the pandemic. 

“I don’t recommend anything,” he said, when talking about hydroxychloroquine. “What I recommend is that you consult your doctor [for advice]. In my case, my military doctor prescribed it. I’m well, thank God. The future will tell if the drug works or not. […] I’m not here to recommend anyone to take this or that medicine. Seek your doctor at the first sign of symptoms.”

The change in approach came after the president met with Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, who reportedly warned him of the possible legal consequences of encouraging people to take a drug which has been linked to heart arrhythmia. Mr. Mendes said the president could be denounced by the International Court of Justice, in The Hague. There is already a request by a left-wing congressman asking the Prosecutor General to investigate Mr. Bolsonaro for administrative malfeasance for his defense of hydroxychloroquine.

The drug was pivotal to the exit of two Health Ministers from the Bolsonaro government, amid the worst pandemic in a century. Luiz Henrique Mandetta and Nelson Teich, both of whom are doctors, refused to endorse the unproven treatment. Still, Mr. Bolsonaro forced the ministry to authorize the prescription of the drug to all coronavirus patients — and had the Army produce almost 2 million pills.

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