BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Senate on Tuesday launched a probe into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The congressional investigation, known by its Portuguese acronym as a CPI, can result in a number of actions, including the referral of possible wrongdoing to law enforcement. In practice, the inquiry is a political headache for Bolsonaro, who is already facing record disapproval amid Brazil’s worst coronavirus wave.
Senate leader Rodrigo Pacheco said on Tuesday that a congressional inquiry into the federal response to the pandemic would be combined with a probe into how federal resources were distributed to states. Some Bolsonaro-aligned lawmakers had pushed for an inquiry to probe how states and municipalities have handled the pandemic, though Pacheco argued such a move could infringe on the jurisdiction of state assemblies.
The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing Brazil’s medical system to the limit in many parts of the country, partly due to the so-called P1 variant, which many medical experts believe is particularly infectious and deadly.
Some 3,808 Brazilians died of COVID-19 on Tuesday alone, according to Health Ministry data, bringing the total death toll to over 358,000, the second highest in the world behind the United States.
Moreover, victims are getting younger with over 50% of intensive care beds occupied by patients under 40 years old, according to a study published over the weekend by the Brazilian Association of Intensive Medicine.
Bolsonaro has drawn widespread criticism for his approach to the coronavirus, which he has described as a “little flu.” He has repeatedly ignored calls of health experts to wear masks and railed against the use of lockdown measures.
Angered by attempts to have him investigated, Bolsonaro has blasted lawmakers. A Supreme Court judge ruled last week that enough senators had backed an inquiry into the government’s pandemic response to launch the probe despite stalling by Senate leadership.
(Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Gram Slattery; Additional writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Cynthia Osterman)