July 20, 2020 / 4:12 PM / 21 days ago

Third Brazil minister has COVID-19, touts unproven drug cocktail

BRASILIA, July 20 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Citizenship Minister Onyx Lorenzoni said on Monday he had tested positive for the new coronavirus, the country’s third minister to be infected amid the world’s second-worst outbreak.

Lorenzoni, a close ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, credited relatively mild symptoms to an anti-malarial drug touted by the president on social media and at public rallies.

“I already feel the positive effects,” the minister wrote on Twitter about his regimen of chloroquine, along with azithromycin and ivermectin, as a treatment against the virus.

Bolsonaro, who is quarantined after he also tested positive for the virus, is taking hydroxychloroquine, a related drug. Both are used to treat malaria, and Bolsonaro has become a full-throated supporter of using them to treat COVID-19, despite the lack of solid proof they work against the disease.

“It is important to remember that the ‘off label’ use of medication is well established in medicine, as long as the patient clearly agrees,” tweeted Bolsonaro on Monday morning, defending the use of hydroxychloroquine for unproven treatments.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro stood a few meters away from rallying supporters in Brasilia and brandished a box of the drug over his head with two hands, drawing cheers, in an online video that commentators likened to a scene from the Lion King movie.

Nearly 80,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil, with more than 2 million cases. Only the United States has fared worse. Experts say the true numbers in Brazil are likely far higher due to a lack of widespread testing.

Augusto Heleno, Bolsonaro’s national security advisor, and Mines and Energy Mininster Bento Albuquerque have both tested positive for the virus as well.

The virus has also swept through the political elite in other corners of Latin America, including Bolivia, where the president and more than a half dozen ministers were diagnosed, casting a shadow over an upcoming election. (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu Writing and additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter Editing by Brad Haynes and Marguerita Choy)

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