Brazilian leader Bolsonaro put on notice by House Speaker over Covid-19 response

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaking to the press in Brasilia on March 24, 2021.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaking to the press in Brasilia on March 24, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA (BLOOMBERG) - One of Brazil's most powerful politicians has a pointed message for President Jair Bolsonaro: Ramp up the government's response to tackle one of the world's worst Covid-19 crises or face the consequences.

Lower House Speaker Arthur Lira, an ally of the President, said in a speech to fellow legislators on Wednesday (March 25) that he's "raising the yellow flag" warning.

Without naming names, Mr Lira noted that Congress has the means to deal with situations where poor judgment spirals out of control.

"Congress' political remedies are well known. All of them are bitter. Some are fatal," Mr Lira said.

While the Speaker didn't use the word impeachment, the message was clear in a country where two presidents were brought down by congress since the early 1990s.

Mr Lira said the pandemic requires urgent action and a drastic shift in approach to address "the country's worst humanitarian disgrace".

While stressing that officials at all levels of government may have made mistakes, Mr Lira insisted that "those who have more responsibilities have a great obligation to correct themselves faster".

Mr Lira said he would suspend the voting of any measure not related to the pandemic over the next two weeks.

Since the pandemic hit Brazil, Mr Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed its severity, stressing the need to keep the economy open, while also shunning vaccinations.

On Wednesday, Brazil became the second country to surpass 300,000 Covid deaths.

The country's struggle to secure supplies and coordinate a nationwide campaign between the federal government and its 27 states means just 6 per cent of the population have received a jab.

Mr Lira's speech came hours after he met Mr Bolsonaro and other top officials to discuss a unified response to the pandemic at a time when the disease is raging like wildfire across Latin America's largest economy.

Following that meeting, senators increased pressure on Mr Bolsonaro to replace Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, accusing him of lack of diplomacy with key vaccine suppliers such as China and the US.

During a four-hour hearing at the Senate, lawmakers demanded from several different parties demanded his immediate resignation.

Under pressure from allies and business leaders, Mr Bolsonaro promised in a nationwide speech on Tuesday that he would expedite mass vaccination efforts and said life will go back to normal very soon.