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Fiocruz renounces chloroquine: “no specific treatment for Covid-19”

Débora Álvares
May 07, 2021 11:41 ( Updated: May 07, 2021 13:22 )

After hitting something of a brick wall in this week’s depositions of former and current Health Ministers, the Senate’s Covid inquiry is beginning to receive responses solicited from several agencies last week, which will help shape further testimonies and the committee’s final report. One such document came from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a research institute working under the federal government’s umbrella and responsible for manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine in Brazil. And the reply touched on one of the inquiry’s hot topics of this week: chloroquine. 

At the beginning of a 43-page report sent to the Senate’s hearings committee, the renowned institute states “there is no specific treatment for Covid-19.”

“Fiocruz produces chloroquine 150 mg tablets as part of the National Program for the Prevention and Control of Malaria for almost 20 years, with the recommendations for use described on the label and approved by [health regulator] Anvisa. In 2020, as was the case in previous years, our entire production of the drug was destined toward the program in question.”

Traditionally an antimalarial drug, President Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly touted chloroquine as a potential “miracle treatment” for Covid-19, despite a lack of any scientific evidence to this effect.

Fiocruz admitted that, in 2020, it received a request from the Health Ministry to produce 4 million chloroquine tablets. However, it added that the institute is “not developing any studies to expand the use of chloroquine and/or hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 patients,” and that Fiocruz does not intend to issue a request to change the drug’s label and include recommendations for treatment of the coronavirus.

Next week, the inquiry will hear Anvisa head Antônio Barra Torres, former government press secretary Fábio Wajngarten, former Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, and a representative of Pfizer in Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s Health Minister gets on senators’ nerves

Débora Álvares
May 06, 2021 17:01

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga’s evasive answers to the Senate’s Covid hearings committee today have left the inquiry’s members infuriated.

Questioned several times about his opinion on the use of antimalarial drug chloroquine to treat Covid-19, the country’s top health official refused to give a clear answer on where he stands in relation to the medicine touted by President Jair Bolsonaro.

“Minister, you seem unable to answer yes or no,” said an exasperated Senator Otto Alencar. “What I asked was very clear: do you or do you not agree with the Brazilian Society of Cardiology, which stated verbatim that it does not recommend the use of hydroxychloroquine?”

Others tried to remind Mr. Queiroga that he was under oath. “Don’t you have an opinion on that yet? For God’s sake…” complained Senator Tasso Jereissati.

Elsewhere, when asked about President Bolsonaro’s threat to issue a decree banning social isolation measures, Mr. Queiroga was once again evasive, saying it was not up to him to make a “value judgement” on the president’s actions.

After the largely timid depositions of former Health Ministers Luiz Henrique Mandetta and Nelson Teich earlier this week — as well as the decision to postpone Eduardo Pazuello’s testimony until May 19 — the Covid hearings have been something of a damp squib so far. Next week, the committee will hear former government press secretary Fábio Wajngarten, as well as representatives of vaccine manufacturers and labs.

Queiroga: health collapse was due to “biological unpredictability”

TBR Newsroom
May 06, 2021 11:42

During today’s session of the Covid hearings committee investigating the federal government’s pandemic response, inquiry rapporteur Senator Renan Calheiros asked Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga what is lacking in the country to mount an adequate management of the coronavirus crisis. 

Mr. Queiroga replied that the distribution of inputs was up to standard, and that the collapse of Brazil’s health system could be put down to “biological unpredictability.”

The minister dodged a question about whether he agrees with President Jair Bolsonaro’s position on using antimalarial drug chloroquine as a response against the coronavirus. “That issue calls for a technical approach,” he said. While senators critical of Mr. Bolsonaro tried to pressure the Health Minister into a yes-or-no answer, government loyalists intervened, saying the rapporteur was trying to lead the witness.

Senators gear up for Health Minister deposition in Covid hearings

Débora Álvares
May 05, 2021 17:53

After hearing the depositions of two of President Jair Bolsonaro’s former Health Ministers, the Senate’s Covid inquiry will question current minister Marcelo Queiroga tomorrow, as well as head of Brazil’s health regulator Antônio Barra Torres.

With the testimonies of Luiz Henrique Mandetta yesterday and Nelson Teich earlier today, the hearings committee members feel they have sufficient evidence to affirm Mr. Bolsonaro put pressure on the Health Ministry to endorse antimalarial drug chloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19 — despite a lack of any scientific evidence proving its efficacy. 

The opposition’s strategy is now clear, planning to grill Mr. Queiroga on the Health Ministry’s protocol for chloroquine use, introduced by his predecessor, Eduardo Pazuello.

On May 20 of last year, Mr. Pazuello’s Health Ministry issued a recommendation for the use of chloroquine at all phases of coronavirus treatment. Marcelo Queiroga took office on March 23 and has not revoked the guidance.

This afternoon, Nelson Teich confirmed that he left the Health Ministry after one month due to pressure regarding the endorsement of chloroquine. He added that he felt he did not have the autonomy to manage his own department. 

When Antônio Barra Torres — head of health regulator Anvisa — takes the stand tomorrow, he will face questions regarding the agency’s analysis of vaccines. Anvisa recently rejected import requests for the Russian-made Sputnik V immunizer, which caused a stir among the Brazilian public and state governors. Meanwhile, senators are unlikely to overlook Mr. Barra Torres’ appearance in a public demonstration alongside President Bolsonaro in March of last year, where neither wore masks. 

At the end of today’s session, the Senate committee finalized the inquiry schedule for next week. On Tuesday, former Communication Secretary Fábio Wajngarten will be brought in to depose, as well as two representatives from pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.

Wednesday will see representatives of biological institutes Butantan and Fiocruz take the stand, before ex-Foreign Minister Eduardo Araújo comes under the microscope on Thursday. Later that day, the inquiry will hear a Brazilian representative of the Sputnik V vaccine.

Bolsonaro threatens decree to end Covid restrictions: “don’t dare contesting it”

Euan Marshall
May 05, 2021 11:42

During an event in Brasília on Wednesday morning, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to issue a decree banning restriction measures in states and municipalities.

“Don’t dare contesting it, whoever you are,” he said, in a not-so-veiled reference to the Supreme Court, which has stood in the way of Mr. Bolsonaro’s previous attempts to rule by decree and forbid social isolation.

Complaining that religious services must be allowed to go ahead and people must have the “freedom to work,” the president invoked Article 5 of Brazil’s Constitution, which assures the right of citizens to come and go freely during times of peace.

“We want the freedom to hold religious services, we want the freedom to work, we want our right to come and go, no-one can contest that. If I issue this decree, I repeat, it will be carried out.”

Lula meets major congressional figures, while Bolsonaro toils over Covid inquiry

Débora Álvares
May 05, 2021 11:17

While the Bolsonaro government is working tirelessly to derail a Senate inquiry into the administration’s pandemic response, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva continues his roadshow in the capital Brasília, lining up a series of promising meetings with influential political figures.

On Thursday afternoon — while the Senate hearings committee will question Antônio Barra Torres, head of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa — Lula is scheduled to meet with Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco.

With the help of Jair Bolsonaro, Mr. Pacheco was elected to lead the upper house of Brazil’s Congress earlier this year, but there have been doubts from day one about how far Mr. Pacheco’s fealty to the president will go. A meeting between the head of the Senate and the leading figure of the opposition will no doubt cause concern for the federal administration.

This afternoon, Lula is set to meet former House Speaker Rodrigo Maia. While the latter dished out attacks against the ex-president during his term leading the lower house, there has been some rapprochement between the pair of late. When Lula gave his first public speech after seeing his corruption convictions quashed by the Supreme Court in March, Mr. Maia called his words “presidential.”

On Monday, Lula sat down with lawmaker Marcelo Freixo, from the left-wing Socialism and Freedom Party. Planning to run for governor of Rio de Janeiro in next year’s election, Lula hopes to recruit Mr. Freixo and other left-wing parties as part of a broad coalition to defeat President Bolsonaro in 2022.

Lula starts “recruiting” for 2022 elections

Débora Álvares
May 04, 2021 17:46

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has begun a round of negotiations with a view to building a stable coalition for the 2022 elections.

This morning, he met with rookie Senator Fabiano Contarato of Espírito Santo, asking him to ditch his current party, Rede, and join Lula’s Workers’ Party. In the 2018 election, Mr. Contarato — the Senate’s only openly homosexual member — beat the odds against veteran politicians and gained 1.1 million votes, more than any other Senate candidate.

Lula also spoke with Eunício Oliveira, a former senator from Ceará who remains a key figure in the Brazilian Democratic Movement party, a traditional power broker in Brazil. 

The former president is sided by Fernando Haddad — the runner up in the 2018 presidential race — and former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. Besides meetings with experienced politicians toward a potential alliance, Lula will also sit down with the British and Russian ambassadors to discuss vaccines. 

On Monday, Lula met with German Ambassador Heiko Thoms, who reportedly expressed “concerns” around Brazil’s environmental stance under President Jair Bolsonaro.

Lula on whistle-stop tour of the capital this week

Débora Álvares
May 03, 2021 16:48

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva arrived in Brasília this afternoon for a series of meetings throughout the week. Among other commitments, Lula will sit down with fellow ex-President José Sarney and other heads of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party.

Last week, Jair Bolsonaro met with Mr. Sarney himself. According to The Brazilian Report‘s sources, the president asked whether the MDB’s Renan Calheiros — rapporteur of the Covid-19 hearings committee in the Senate — is in fact a close friend of Lula’s.

While being a close ally of Mr. Sarney, Mr. Calheiros will not take part in this week’s meetings to avoid any criticism regarding his fairness in charge of the pandemic inquiry. According to one source close to the MDB senator, Mr. Calheiros believes it is “not the right time to meet Lula or Mr. Bolsonaro.”

Also on Lula’s agenda this week are talks with lawmakers over potentially joining his Workers’ Party ahead of the 2022 election. However, the former president is hesitant to portray his trip as being electorally motivated.

As such, he will also hold meetings with members of Congress to discuss increasing coronavirus emergency aid payments to the original level of BRL 600 (USD 110), and he will sit down with representatives of the Russian, British, and German embassies to talk about Covid-19 vaccines.