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Brazil’s President Bolsonaro fires health minister after coronavirus dispute

In this March 18, 2019 file photo, Brazil's then Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, right, gives anti-bacterial gel to President Jair Bolsonaro as they give a press conference on the new coronavirus at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil.

In this March 18, 2019 file photo, Brazil's then Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, right, gives anti-bacterial gel to President Jair Bolsonaro as they give a press conference on the new coronavirus at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil.   | Photo Credit: AP

Luiz Henrique Mandetta, a doctor, garnered popular support for his pandemic response that included promotion of broad isolation measures enacted by State governors

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro fired his health minister on Thursday after a series of disagreements over government efforts to contain the new coronavirus.

“I just heard from the President Jair Bolsonaro the news of my dismissal from the health ministry,” Luiz Henrique Mandetta posted on his verified Twitter profile, adding that he wished success to his replacement, who is yet to be named officially.

Mandetta, a doctor, garnered popular support for his pandemic response that included promotion of broad isolation measures enacted by State governors.

Mr. Bolsonaro, for his part, repeatedly characterized the virus as a little flu, said shutting down the economy would cause more damage than confining only high-risk Brazilians, and touted the yet-unproven efficacy of an anti-malarial drug.

Also read: 'Sorry, some will die': President Jair Bolsonaro on Brazil's coronavirus death toll

Dr. Mandetta has drawn comparisons to Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. President Donald Trump’s top virus expert. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Mandetta have often made public statements about the virus that differed with those of their bosses.

Afterward, Mr. Bolsonaro and Mr. Trump’s bases each took to Twitter to call for removal of their country’s top health official. The White House has said this week that Dr. Fauci’s job is secure.

Also read: Our President is openly sabotaging our efforts to contain coronavirus, says Brazil official

Republicans close to the White House say Mr. Trump has complained about Dr. Fauci’s positive media attention and sought to leave him out of task force briefings.

Mr. Bolsonaro, likewise, had convened doctors without inviting Dr. Mandetta and, in a televised interview earlier this month, said Dr. Mandetta had failed to show humility.

A few days later, on April 5, Mr. Bolsonaro told a group of supporters that he would act against officials in his government who are full of themselves.

Those comments were widely understood as signaling an end to Dr. Mandetta’s tenure, so much so that the minister said the next day his subordinates had cleaned out his desk.

He survived, but questions have since swirled over whether Mr. Bolsonaro had indeed backed away from dismissing the man whose COVID-19 response was welcomed by many Brazilians, or if he were just biding his time while recruiting a replacement.

Health surveillance secretary resigns

On Wednesday, with Dr. Mandetta’s dismissal looking near certain, his health surveillance secretary Wanderson de Oliveira tendered his resignation. An epidemiologist who worked at the health ministry for more than a decade, de Oliveira presided over many of the press conferences when Dr. Mandetta was unable, and was also a booster of quarantine measures to prevent the virus’ spread.

To many people’s surprise, Mr. de Oliveira appeared alongside Dr. Mandetta at their conference on the same day, saying he had refused his secretary’s resignation.

We are going to work together until the moment we leave together, Mandetta said.

While rising quickly, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Brazil is still relatively low in relation to the country’s massive population of 211 million. There have been almost 2,000 deaths.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 4:39:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/brazils-president-bolsonaro-fires-health-minister-after-coronavirus-dispute/article31360881.ece

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