Bolsonaro accused of embarrassing Brazil during New York trip

Speech to UN condemned for untruths, and Covid-positive minister for health left in US

Everything can change in a New York visit: Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the UN General Assembly via live stream. Photograph: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Everything can change in a New York visit: Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the UN General Assembly via live stream. Photograph: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

 

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has faced accusations of embarrassing his country after a tumultuous visit this week to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

As well as giving a speech that was widely condemned for containing a series of distortions and untruths, the far-right leader, who is a leading coronavirus sceptic, was forced to eat pizza on the pavement because New York requires evidence of vaccination for entry into restaurants.

Mr Bolsonaro was accused by opposition senators of “once again submitting Brazil to international embarrassment” with his UN address, which twisted the facts about his administration’s record on the environment and its handling of the pandemic. The speech was also roundly criticised by Brazilian commentators. On her daily show, one of Brazil’s most popular television presenters Fátima Bernardes said she was “ashamed” by it.

With the country’s death toll from Covid-19 approaching 600,000, the president was also forced to leave his health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, behind self-isolating in a New York hotel after he tested positive for the virus during the trip. Back in Brazil, Mr Bolsonaro and the rest of his delegation said they would self-isolate for at least five days because of the minister’s positive test.

During the trip Mr Queiroga, Brazil’s fourth health minister of the pandemic, was in close contact with Mr Bolsonaro, who met a number of other dignitaries, including UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Other members of the Brazilian delegation who travelled with him held meetings during the week with advisers to US president Joe Biden. The positive test has prompted questions about how someone in the delegation infected with the virus was not detected earlier by the president’s security team.

Unproven medicines

In his address to the UN, Mr Bolsonaro once again defended the use of treatments that health authorities around the world have dismissed as ineffective in combating Covid-19. His renewed defence of them came as the congressional inquiry under way in Brasília into his administration’s failed response to the pandemic was gathering evidence about alleged secret government-commissioned trials using the discredited treatments.

According to media reports taken up by the inquiry, Brazilian private healthcare operator Prevent Senior conducted tests using chloroquine and other unproven medicines such as the horse de-wormer ivermectin on elderly patients in its care who had contracted the virus without their consent.

When a number of these patients subsequently died, the company covered up the fact Covid-19 was the cause to boost recovery statistics, according to members of the group’s medical team. Among those who reportedly had their cause of death altered was the mother of one of President Bolsonaro’s most prominent supporters in Brazil’s business community.

The company has said any tests carried out were conducted within ministry of health guidelines. Brazil’s medical establishment has been split during the pandemic, with supporters of Mr Bolsonaro working to provide scientific justification for his vaccine scepticism and obsession with Covid treatments dismissed by the World Health Organisation as ineffective or counter-productive.