BRASILIA (Reuters) - Two more Brazilian government ministers said on Monday they had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, underscoring a struggle to limit the world’s second-worst outbreak even among the political elite.
Citizenship Minister Onyx Lorenzoni and newly appointed Education Minister Milton Ribeiro both announced their diagnoses and new quarantine measures on social media.
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.
More than 80,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil, out of more than 2.1 million cases, according to Health Ministry data on Monday. 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 adviser, and Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque have both tested positive for the virus as well.
The virus has 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, Marguerita Choy and Tom Brown