Brazil’s health minister quits after less than a month

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Brazil’s health minister has resigned after less than a month in the job in a sign of continuing upheaval over the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s has called for the nation to prioritise the economy over health-driven lockdowns.

Nelson Teich’s resignation was confirmed by the Health Ministry.

The oncologist, a former healthcare consultant, took the job on April 17 under pressure to align the ministry’s actions with the president’s view that the economy must not be destroyed by restrictions to control spread of the virus.

Officials say that more than 13,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, though some experts say the figure is significantly higher due to insufficient testing, and analysts say the peak of the crisis has yet to hit Latin America’s largest nation.

Virus Outbreak Brazil
President Jair Bolsonaro has been heavily criticised (Eraldo Peres/AP)

Mr Teich’s resignation comes one day after Mr Bolsonaro told business leaders in a video conference he would ease rules for use of an anti-malaria drug to treat people infected with the coronavirus.

The outgoing health minister has frequently called the use of chloroquine “an uncertainty” in the fight against the virus, and this week warned of its side effects.

The Health Ministry previously allowed the use of chloroquine only for coronavirus patients hospitalised in a serious condition.

At Mr Bolsonaro’s urging, the country’s Army Chemical and Pharmaceutical Laboratory boosted chloroquine production in late March.

The anti-malarial drug was widely touted by US President Donald Trump as a treatment.

But researchers last month reported no benefit in a large analysis of the drug or a related substance, hydroxychloroquine, in US hospitals for veterans.

Last month, scientists in Brazil stopped part of a study of chloroquine after heart rhythm problems developed in one quarter of people given the higher of two doses being tested.

Governors who have taken a more cautious road than Mr Bolsonaro’s during the pandemic praised Mr Teich’s efforts.

Rio de Janeiro governor Wilson Witzel, a former ally of Mr Bolsonaro, said “no one can do serious work with interference in ministries and in the federal police”.

“That is why governors and mayors need to lead the pandemic crisis, and not you, Mr President,” Mr Witzel said on Twitter.

The governor of Ceara, one of Brazil’s most hard-hit states, said Mr Teich’s exit “brings enormous insecurity and concern”.

“It is unacceptable that before this serious health crisis that we face, the focus of the government is still on political and ideological discussions. That is an affront to the nation,” Camilo Santana said.

Mr Bolsonaro fired Mr Teich’s predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, on April 16 after disagreements over efforts to contain the new coronavirus.

The president opposed governors’ quarantine recommendations and restrictions on business and was eager to resume economic activity, and warned failure to do so would cause Brazil to descend into “chaos”.

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