Brazil could quit WHO, warns Bolsonaro

President asks health group to work without ‘ideological bias’ as the toll rises in Latin America

Updated - June 06, 2020 10:08 pm IST

Published - June 06, 2020 10:06 pm IST - Rio de Janeiro

Singing for relief:  Health professionals singing to relieve themselves of stress during a break at a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday.

Singing for relief: Health professionals singing to relieve themselves of stress during a break at a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of the World Health Organization (WHO) over “ideological bias,” as his counterpart Donald Trump said the U.S. economy was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic while Europe slowly reopens its borders.

From Africa to Europe to Asia, governments are focused on reviving economies ravaged by weeks of restrictions to contain the virus that has killed almost 4,00,000 people worldwide since it emerged in China late last year.

European countries that are among the hardest hit are steadily reopening with the infection rates slowing even as Latin America is battered by the epidemic, especially Brazil which now has the world’s third-highest number of virus deaths.

Trial of drug

Fuelling the debate raging around the pandemic, its origins and the best way to respond, Mr. Bolsonaro criticized the World Health Organization for suspending clinical trials of the drug hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 — a decision it reversed this week — and threatened to follow in Mr. Trump’s footsteps by quitting. “I’m telling you right now, the United States left the WHO, and we’re studying that, in the future. Either the WHO works without ideological bias, or we leave, too,” the far-right leader told journalists.

Dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” Mr. Bolsonaro has followed the U.S. President in his handling of the pandemic, downplaying its severity, attacking stay-at-home measures and touting the purported effects of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19.

The WHO had suspended trials of hydroxychloroquine after major studies raised concerns about its safety and effectiveness — irking Mr. Trump, who even took the drug himself as a preventive measure.

Most of the authors of the studies that appeared in The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine retracted their work, saying they could no longer vouch for their data because the firm that supplied it refused to be audited. But a new study from Oxford University said on Friday that hydroxychloroquine showed “no beneficial effect” in treating COVID-19.

The WHO also changed its advice on face masks, saying that “in light of evolving evidence” they should be worn in places where the virus is widespread and physical distancing is difficult. The new coronavirus has killed almost 3,96,000 people and infected 6.7 million globally, the world’s worst health crisis in more than a century.

At its early peak, the pandemic forced half of humanity into some form of lockdown and risked tipping economies into the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In the U.S. — the hardest-hit country, with 1,09,000 dead and nearly 1.9 million infections — Mr. Trump also said the economy was bouncing back. “We had the greatest economy in the history of the world. And that strength let us get through this horrible pandemic, largely through, I think we’re doing really well,” he told reporters.

In Europe, badly-hit countries slowly continued on a path toward a post-pandemic normal, also seeking to revive key tourist sectors in time for the summer season.

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