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President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, on March 31.
President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, on March 31. Mateus Bononi/Getty Images

The Brazilian Senate will open an inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, as President Jair Bolsonaro continues to avoid lockdown measures despite the country’s mounting death toll.

Earlier this week, Bolsonaro shrugged off criticisms that he is “genocidal” in his opposition to Covid-19 restrictions, as the nation recorded its deadliest 24 hours of the pandemic. Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat of the virus while claiming that the economic impact of shutdowns would hurt Brazilians more than Covid-19.

Brazilian Supreme Court judge Luis Roberto Barroso ordered the Senate to set up a commission for the investigation on Thursday, after requests from 32 of Brazil’s 81 senators. Announcing the ruling, Barroso said that Brazil is “at its worst, breaking regrettable records of daily deaths and cases of infection.”

On Thursday, Brazil recorded over 4,200 new Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours, raising its total toll to more than 345,000 — second only to the United States.

The president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, said he would comply with the order but that the investigation could sabotage efforts to fight the pandemic and become a “political theater aiming at the 2022” general elections.

The probe will look at the actions of former health ministers Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Nelson Teich, army general Eduardo Pazuello, and the current minister of health Marcelo Queiroga.

Barroso has called for the inquiry to focus on “the actions and omissions” of the federal government, particularly in the state of Amazonas. Several Covid-19 patients reportedly died in Manaus, the state’s capital, when hospitals ran out of oxygen earlier this year.

The Supreme Court also ruled Thursday that states and municipalities have the power to prohibit in-person religious gatherings, a move that Bolsonaro had fiercely opposed.