Henrique Mandetta’s dismissal comes amid tensions with President Jair Bolsonaro over the country’s COVID-19 response.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fired Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta on Thursday following speculation the official would be dismissed amid tensions over the handling of the country’s coronavirus response.
“I just heard from President Jair Bolsonaro the notice of my dismissal from the Ministry of Health”, Mandetta tweeted, going on to give thanks for having the opportunity to put in motion a project to improve the health of Brazilians during the coronavirus, which he called a “great challenge”.
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Bolsonaro said he had appointed oncologist Nelson Teich as the country’s new health minister.
Bolsonaro and Mandetta have clashed for weeks over the need for widespread social isolation in the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The far-right leader argued the measures are unnecessary and economically harmful, insisting the outbreak is being blown out of proportion.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat of the coronavirus as a “little flu,” arguing that Brazil’s economy must continue to run normally and defending the use of unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine.
Mandetta said in a live webcast with health industry officials on Thursday that he expected to be fired by Friday, although he tried to minimise fears that his departure would disrupt efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Mandetta said he would assist his replacement during the transition in the ministry.
“We have a prospect of change here in the ministry, it must be today or, at the latest, tomorrow, but this will finally happen,” Mandetta said. “Our focus is on the virus, and we will be very careful to support whoever comes here, we will not make any sudden movements,” he added.
The Health Ministry’s response to the epidemic was rated “good” or “great” by 76 percent of Brazilians surveyed by pollster Datafolha this month. Just 33 percent of those surveyed gave Bolsonaro the same ratings.
Teich had been considered as a candidate for health minister in 2018 when Bolsonaro won election, although Mandetta ultimately got the job. Teich currently works as a medical consultant, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Teich has posted on social media defending many of the same positions Mandetta holds, including “horizontal” isolation of the whole population, which Bolsonaro opposes.
Brazil’s death toll from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, was at 1,736 on Wednesday, while confirmed cases reached 28,320, according to data from the ministry.
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