Brazil's Bolsonaro sacks health minister during virus crisis: officia

Luiz Henrique Mandetta
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has insisted the risk from the coronavirus is low and called for Brazil to stay open for business, fired his health minister Thursday after the two clashed repeatedly over how to handle the pandemic in this country of 210 million.

“I have just heard from the president I have been fired,” Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said on his Twitter account.

Mandetta has defended social isolation while the far-right president insists the impact of the pandemic on Brazil’s struggling economy is more important than loss of life.

Bolsonaro’s downplaying of coronavirus – and his public call for Brazil to relax quarantine measures and get back to work – has appalled critics and many citizens, sparking nightly pot-banging protests in major cities.

Bolsonaro’s efforts to undermine regional governments’ efforts to enforce such shutdowns have sparked a political rebellion by the governors of nearly all of Brazil’s 27 states.

Recent modelling by researchers from Imperial College London suggested Brazil could have more than 1.1 million Covid-19 deaths if no action were taken to control the pandemic; 529,000 if only elderly people were forced to isolate; and 44,200 if drastic measures were implemented.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Bolsonaro said that Mandetta’s departure from the government was a “consensual divorce”, but his dismissal has the potential to cause a major public revolt. Earlier this month research by one of Brazil’s top pollsters showed 76% of Brazilians backed the health ministry’s response to coronavirus under Mandetta while only 33% backed Bolsonaro’s.

Writing ahead of Bolsonaro’s decision, the political commentator Leandro Colon said Mandetta’s sacking might be good news “for those rooting for Jair Bolsonaro’s quick downfall”.

Such a move would further isolate the rightwing populist and could provoke “a political reaction of major proportions”, Colon wrote in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.  But Colon warned that Mandetta’s removal would also be bad news for the health of Brazil’s 209 million citizens.

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