June 3, 2023

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Coronavirus: Jair Bolsonaro threatens to fire health minister after clashing over Brazil's containment strategy

The Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper claims health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta clashed with Mr Bolsonaro over his refusal to take Covid-19 seriously, having previously dismissed it as “just the sniffles”.

Refusing to follow Mr Mandetta’s own advice, the president has continued to campaign against isolation measures and, over the weekend, visited a market area outside Brasilia to press home his case for keeping Latin America’s largest economy ticking over.

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The health minister reportedly told the Brazilian leader during a cabinet meeting on Saturday he would have no choice but to criticise him for failing to heed government advice put to the public.

“Bolsonaro replied that, if he did so, he would fire him,” claims Estado.

Mr Mandetta also reportedly told the president that he could not defend his proposal to isolate only the old and the ill as a way of reducing the economic impact of the pandemic.

In a later press conference, the health minister said his measures would be guided by scientific experts and he called on people to stay at home because the health services cannot cope with a surge in cases of infection.

He also said chloroquine, which is used to treat malaria and defended by Mr Bolsonaro as a possible solution to the health crisis, was not a cure for the coronavirus and could be toxic if used without medical advice.

Mr Mandetta has been at odds with Mr Bolsonaro since the president greeted supporters rallying outside his office on 15 March.

As the country’s coronavirus outbreak has spiralled, with the number of cases almost tripling in seven days to 4,256, Mr Bolsonaro said that Brazilians need to keep working to earn their incomes while taking precautions not to catch Covid-19.

He has also lashed out at state and municipal officials who, in steps aimed at saving lives, have implemented tough lockdowns, closed non-essential businesses and banned public meetings, even in churches.

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The far-right leader has continued to deny the gravity of the disease, calling it “a small cold” that would kill only old people.

On Friday, he cast doubt on the state of Sao Paulo’s official death toll from the outbreak, the highest in the country, accusing the governor of manipulating the numbers for political ends.

“I’m sorry, some people will die, they will die, that’s life,” Bolsonaro said in a television interview.

Recent modelling by researchers at Imperial College London suggests that as many as 1.1 million people could die in Brazil if no action was taken to limit the spread of Covid-19. If drastic containment measures are implemented, the research suggests up to 44,200 lives will be lost.

To date, the virus has infected more than 3,900 people in Brazil and killed 114.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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