By Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA, Feb 4 (Reuters) – Brazil’s prosecutor-general has opened a preliminary investigation into its president and health minister for possible negligence in response to a COVID-19 outbreak in Manaus city, according to a document seen by Reuters on Thursday.
Located deep in the Amazon rainforest, Manaus has been hit hard by a brutal second wave of virus infection that has pushed its emergency services to their breaking point. The city ran out of oxygen in January, prompting the federal government to fly in tanks from across the country in an attempt to save people from suffocating to death.
The region is also the birthplace of a coronavirus variant, with similar mutations to those from Britain and South Africa, that researchers say is more transmissible and may be worsening the situation in the city.
The probe into President Jair Bolsonaro and Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, revealed by Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras in a document sent to Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, follows requests by eight federal congressmen from the far-left Communist Party of Brazil for an investigation to be started.
In the document, Aras said he had begun an “initial inquiry”. This can precede a more formal investigation known in Brazil as an “inquerito,” a type of probe that would require the court’s approval.
“If, eventually, reasonable indications of possible wrongdoing come to light … a request for the beginning of an ‘inquerito’ will be submitted to the Supreme Court,” the document read.
Last week, Lewandowski authorized the opening of an “inquerito” into Pazuello’s conduct in relation to the situation in Manaus, but that probe does not involve Bolsonaro.
The office of Brazil’s solicitor-general, which is responsible for defending Bolsonaro, and the health ministry declined to comment.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Karishma Singh)
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