The daily beast
Top COVID scientist: Bolsonaro tried to imprison me
SERGIO LIMA When funding for Dr. Pedro Halal’s study for COVID-19 was suddenly cut, deaths from the virus had just risen to reach new heights in Brazil. The reason? Halal says the government simply does not like what his study reveals: that local people are five times more likely to become infected with COVID-1
9 than other ethnic groups in Brazil. His findings came amid an increase in invasions of local lands by soybean farmers, ranchers and illegal miners, drawn from friendly signals by Brazilian Denalist President Jair Bolsonaro. “I’m absolutely sure it should have locked me up,” Halal, an epidemiologist and professor at the Federal University of Pelotas, told The Daily Beast. “The study showed results they didn’t want to show.” Hallal, whose research funding for COVID was cut last year, is not alone. Dozens of researchers studying the virus say they have targeted fans and allies of Bolsonaro, who has long emerged as a Trump-like populist who opposes science, the mass media and the “corrupt” liberal elite. How Bolsonaro took Trump’s crown as the world’s worst COVID leader Researchers in Brazil say they have suffered relentless attacks on social media, death threats, funding cuts and random investigations in the past year as they try to figure out more. well the virus is ravaging the country. They say these attacks are a subtly veiled attempt to kill them and suppress their work. Bolsonaro has downplayed the virus as a “fantasy” and a “small flu”, refuted against blocking and – until recently – rejected vaccines. “Brazilians need to be studied. They don’t catch anything. You see the man jumping into the sewers, diving. And nothing is happening to him, “the president said of the virus last year. Although COVID has killed 398,000 people in Brazil, the president and his allies have repeatedly questioned its victims and accused governors and mayors of inflating the death toll. to weaken the political president. “There is this conservative base that presents itself as opposition to science,” said Pablo Ornelas Rosa, a professor at Villa Vela University in Espirito Santo. “If you are pro-scientific and pro-facts, you are labeled as a leftist, as a communist, as an enemy of the president. “” The health minister went crazy, “recalls Halal, who coordinated the study, Brazil’s largest epidemiological analysis of the virus and its spread across the country. organized by the ministry to disclose its latest findings, the ministry has banned the publication of data on the increased risk to indigenous peoples.Hallal says he has never been told why o employees are challenged with the findings. A few weeks later, the study – commissioned by a former health minister who was fired last April after a clash with Bolsonaro – lost its federal funding. Hull was soon investigated by the federal audit body after criticizing Bolsonaro in a live broadcast and his allies were removed in the university election. Violent attacks on scientists, including by Bolsonaro himself, have spilled over on social media. Hallal told The Daily Beast that the president’s supporters made threatening phone calls to him and even filmed him on the street with his family. “It was a direct persecution caused by my position on the pandemic,” he said. “Instead of correcting its mistakes, the government is attacking those who expose its mistakes.” The attacks are particularly sharp against those who question Bolsonaro’s position on chloroquine, an antimalarial drug that he, along with Donald Trump, sees as ” a miracle cure, ”although there is no evidence that it can fight COVID-19. Bolsonaro quickly stood up for the drug and ordered the army to sharply increase national production. When the president himself received COVID, he took the drug live and boasted that it was rapidly improving. Marcus Laserda’s problems began when he decided to investigate whether the drug was indeed a “miracle cure” for the new coronavirus. In the Amazon city of Manaus, the research group he leads has been using chloroquine for years as part of its research on malaria. Since the infections took over hospitals in his city last March, Lacerda decided to apply the know-how to his team by testing the drug’s ability to fight COVID-19. But a clinical study by the team quickly found that chloroquine was not only ineffective against COVID-19, but high doses of the drug could cause severe heart problems in patients infected with the virus. The results drew worldwide attention, sparking scathing criticism of Trump’s support for chloroquine, but at home in Brazil, Laserda’s team saw a different response. He says it all started with a tweet from the president’s son, who accused researchers of being a group of “leftists” who deliberately killed people with high doses of chloroquine just to prove the drug didn’t work. This sparked a wave of attacks on social media by supporters of the president. “People said they knew where I lived, that I had killed people on purpose, that I would pay for it,” said Laserda, an infectious disease specialist and researcher at the Carlos Borborema Institute for Clinical Research in Manaus. Laserda says he has received numerous attacks and death threats on social media. Concerned for the safety of himself and his family, he was forced to walk with armed bodyguards for two weeks. “It was one of the worst experiences of my life,” he said. “It was this intense climate of fear.” Caused by complaints from Bolsonaro’s allies, state and federal medical authorities, as well as prosecutors, launched an investigation into the Lacerda study. He says he spent most of last year defending his research to lawyers instead of conducting research in a laboratory. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, scientists in the United States have faced more than 150 attacks during Trump’s presidency. they do, ‘said Laserda. “When a study shows something you don’t agree with, you just take the scientists down.” The attack on science has had a major impact in Brazil. Researchers say the attacks they have suffered have derailed research or discouraged some from dealing with virus-related research. Others have left the country driven by threats or frustration. “Science is being pursued right now,” said Rosa, who studied the behavior of Bolsonaro supporters on WhatsApp and Telegram. “We are living in a really dark moment. And this has a direct impact on research and the quality of scientific production. “Meanwhile, Brazil is still battling one of the worst outbreaks in the world, with the death toll second only to the United States. In recent weeks, infections have exploded, fueled by highly infectious new variants and weak restrictions on blocking. With the expiration of the doses, the vaccinations brought some relief. Read more in The Daily Beast. Get our best stories in your inbox every day. Register now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves into the stories that matter to you. Find out more.