Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

Coronavirus: Brazil’s health minister quits as crisis worsens

The country has now confirmed more cases of the virus than France or Germany

Nelson Teich resigned as health minister than a month after he took the post. EPA
Nelson Teich resigned as health minister than a month after he took the post. EPA

Brazilian Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned on Friday after just weeks on the job, adding to turmoil in President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of an accelerating coronavirus outbreak in one of the world's worst hotspots.

Mr Teich, whom President Bolsonaro had criticised as being too timid in the push to reopen the economy and advocate the use of anti-malarial drugs to fight the virus, submitted his resignation and will hold a news conference later on Friday, the ministry said.

The loss of his second health minister in less than a month spurred criticism of the right-wing president from politicians and calls for his impeachment. In Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where the disease has pushed public hospitals to capacity, Brazilians banged pot and pans from their windows in protest.

Graves of people who have died in the past month fill a new section of the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil. AP
Graves of people who have died in the past month fill a new section of the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil. AP

Military members of the Brazilian cabinet are pushing for deputy health minister Eduardo Pazuello, an army general on active duty, to become the new health minister, making permanent his interim role, a government source told Reuters.

Mr Teich struggled to reach consensus with state governments over guidelines on reopening their economies, as Mr Bolsonaro has demanded. He expressed surprise at a recent press conference when he learned of a presidential decree allowing gyms, beauty parlours and hairdressers to open for business.

The last straw for Mr Teich may have been the president's insistence on a wider use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus, which the minister has resisted due to a lack of scientific evidence.

The US Food and Drug Administration last month cautioned against the use of the malaria drug, which President Donald Trump has touted as a "game changer." Medical researchers have found that the drug, first approved in 1955, provided no benefit and potentially higher risk of death for Covid-19 patients.

Cases continue to grow

Mr Teich resigned a day after Brazil reported a record number of new coronavirus cases. He had replaced Nelson Mandetta, who was fired April 16 for resisting Mr Bolsonaro's pressure to promote hydroxychloroquine and fight state government social distancing orders.

This week Brazil passed Germany and France in coronavirus cases, with more than 200,000 confirmed infections by Thursday, when the health ministry reported 844 new deaths, bringing the death toll to 13,933.

Bolsonaro does not want a technical minister, he wants someone who agrees with his ideological insanity

Alessandro Molon

Opposition and allied politicians criticised Mr Bolsonaro's intransigence. Lawmaker Marcelo Ramos of the centrist Liberal Party said the president would only accept a minister without regard for science-based public health policy.

Congressional opposition leader Alessandro Molon warned that Brazil was heading toward a public health catastrophe and said the president should be impeached.

"Bolsonaro does not want a technical minister, he wants someone who agrees with his ideological insanity, like ending social distancing and using chloroquine," Mr Molon, a lawmaker from the Brazilian Socialist Party, said in a statement.

Mr Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus has been widely criticised globally as he has minimised the severity of the disease and told Brazilians to ignore quarantine restrictions.

"Let us pray," former minister Mr Mandetta said on Twitter after Mr Teich's resignation, calling for faith in science and support for Brazil's public health system.

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Coronavirus around the world

Updated: May 15, 2020 10:43 PM

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