This week a parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI) has been set up in the Brazilian Senate to investigate the performance of the federal government in the Brazilian response to the pandemic (as well as the transfer of federal funds to state governments). According to official data, Brazil has more than 14 million confirmed cases and almost 400 thousand deaths (14th worst in per capita terms), with a consensus that these figures are under-reported by as much as 38%, perhaps more. Brazil’s Covid-19 response was regarded as the worst in the world by the ranking of the Lowy Institute of January 2021, and also by relevant non-governmental organizations in the global health scenario, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, who recognised the existence of a humanitarian catastrophe in the country. There is also consensus on the fact that the disease is out of control.

The analysis of the Brazilian case has two main elements. The first: it could have been different. Brazil has a public health system that guarantees free access to prevention and care throughout the national territory, with qualified health professionals and state-of-the-art research centres in several areas. It has several programmes that are an international reference for good practices, such as the family health strategy and the national immunization program. It was considered the developing country with the greatest capacity to respond to events of this type, so the catastrophe could be much worse if our Unified Health System (known by the acronym SUS) did not exist, but the system has reached the point of collapse.

The second point is that the Brazilian catastrophe results from an institutional strategy that attempts to spread the virus, promoted by the Brazilian government and spearheaded by the Presidency of the Republic. This government policy has two main goals: to spread the the false expectation that it would be possible to achieve herd immunity through contagion and the false belief that there is an early treatment for Covid-19. This is demonstrated by a research published by the Center for Studies and Research on Health Law (CEPEDISA) of the University of São Paulo (USP) in January 2021 and updated by two recently published short articles.

The research is based on a database of more than 3,000 federal legal instruments collected in 2020; the case law of the Federal Supreme Court and the Federal Court of Accounts, in addition to official documents and speeches, videos, posts, and news that broadcast interviews and statements by Brazilian authorities. In its conclusions, the report identifies three axes of the institutional strategy to spread the virus:

1. Federal normative acts, including the enacting of rules by federal authorities and bodies and presidential vetoes – for example, decrees that defined religious services, the construction industry, beauty salons, barber shops, and gyms as essential services so they could remain open even under lockdown; and vetoes to a series of legislative measures to limit the spread of covid-19, such as the mandated use of face masks in closed spaces, including in prisons.

2. Acts of obstruction to state and municipal government efforts to respond to the pandemic, mainly the “war” against government leaders who adopted disease containment measures, which includes the unjustifiable delay of emergency funds to states and municipalities, and a lawsuit before the Supreme Federal Court against three governors, who had temporarily suspended commercial activities, which was dismissed for basic legal inconsistencies.

3. And propaganda against public health, herein defined as the political discourse that employs economic, ideological, and moral arguments, in addition to fake news and technical information without scientific verification, with the purpose of discrediting health authorities, weakening popular adherence to science-based recommendations, and to promote political activism against the public health measures required to contain the spread of Covid-19.

According to the research, the results dispel the persistent interpretation that the federal government is simply incompetent and negligent in terms of its management of the pandemic. On the contrary, the systematization of data, even if still incomplete due to the lack of space for the inclusion of the inordinate number of events, reveals the commitment and efficiency of the Federal Government's work in favour of the extensive spread of the virus in Brazilian territory, with the stated goal of resuming economic activity as quickly as possible and at any cost.

It is noteworthy that, unlike other government officials who also had the temptation to achieve herd immunity through contagion but changed their course as the number of cases and deaths increased, Brazil continues on the path that leads to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths; to the creation of a gigantic laboratory for the production of virus variants and the collapse of the health system. From an economic point of view, instead of investing in disease prevention policies, Brazil's option is to squander human and financial resources in hospital care, especially ICU beds. Despite high spending, the pressure on the health system is immense, including on the private sector. On 25 March, 6,371 people were waiting for an ICU-bed and hundreds of people lost their lives while on the waiting list.

To date, Brazil does not have a national scientific committee to respond to the pandemic. The so-called “Covid kit” or the “early treatment” promoted by the federal government despite evidence of inefficacy, includes hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, ivermectin, and anticoagulants. There are many cases of adverse effects caused by them, such as hemorrhage, renal failure, and arrhythmia, including deaths followed from chloroquine nebulization, and liver transplant line and deaths from hepatitis caused by the use of ivermectin.

As of now, the President continues to encourage the population to contract the virus, promoting agglomerations without the use of masks and disrespecting physical distance, promoting political persecution (and in some cases judicial persecution) of anyone who criticizes him. The President has also threatened governors and mayors, in public statements, of militarily intervention in the states adopting quarantine measures.

Despite various reports of crimes against public health, crimes of responsibility, crimes against humanity and genocide of indigenous communities, the President and the main members of the federal government remain unaccountable and extremely active in their strategy to spread the virus. In a scenario of rapid erosion of the rule of law in Brazil, this is the challenge that the Federal Senate parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI) starting this week will face.