The Brazilian government has loosened protocols for the increased use of chloroquine in the treatment of Covid-19, as the country’s outbreak continues to escalate.

President Jair Bolsonaro unveiled rules expanding its prescription for coronavirus patients, despite a lack of clinical proof that it is effective.

Chloroquine was already being used in Brazil for those in a serious condition in hospital, but under the new regulations it can now be given to people with lighter symptoms such as abdominal pain, cough or fever, according to the Health Ministry.

“There is still no scientific evidence, but it is being monitored and used in Brazil and worldwide,” said Mr Bolsonaro, who has likened the virus to a “little flu” and feuded with local governments over their stay-at-home measures.

“We are at war. Worse than defeat would be the shame of not putting up a fight,” Mr Bolsonaro tweeted about the government decision to put forward the drugs without proof of their effectiveness.

Interim health minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general, authorised the modified protocol after two trained doctors left the ministry’s top job under pressure to promote the early use of chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine – the drug touted as a “game changer” by US president Donald Trump.

No large, rigorous studies have found either drug safe or effective for preventing or treating the virus.

Gonzalo Vecina Neto, the former head of Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, called the new measures a “barbarity” that could cause more harm than good because of the dangerous potential side effects of the drug.

Mr Bolsonaro, an ideological ally of Mr Trump, has been widely criticised for his handling of the outbreak. The far-right former army captain has long snubbed social-distancing measures, arguing instead for the reopening the economy.

Unwilling to take Covid-19 seriously, the Bolsonaro administration is now facing a nationwide crisis.

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More than 291,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Brazil, the third most in the world after the US and Russia.

The announcement regarding chloroquine came a day after the country’s single-day death toll from the virus hit a new high of more than 1,100. Officials said on Wednesday that 888 more people died in the subsequent 24 hours.

Officials say nearly 19,000 people have died of the coronavirus in Brazil so far, and experts warn that low testing rates mean the true number of cases is likely far higher.

Health systems in various states have gone over capacity, with overwhelmed intensive care units unable to take in new Covid-19 patients, and experts say rising numbers of people are dying at home.