SAO PAULO – With Covid-19 still raging in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has selected its fourth health minister since the pandemic began, this time the head of the country’s cardiology society, who has spoken favorably of the country’s conservative leader in the past.
Marcelo Queiroga will replace Eduardo Pazuello, an active army general with expertise in logistics who received the position last May despite a lack of health experience.
Queiroga said in a press conference in the capital, Brasilia on Tuesday, that the Covid-19 policy he is implementing comes “from the Bolsonaro government and not from the health minister”.
“I came to work for Brazil and other ministers in the Bolsonaro administration. The president is very concerned about the situation, ”said Queiroga, who insisted he opposed any lockdown measures. Some Brazilian cities are implementing restrictive shutdowns to stop the spread.
Pazuello had headed the Ministry of Health for the longest time of the three pandemic ministers before Queiroga. The revolving door reflects the challenges facing the government of the largest Latin American nation in taking effective action to combat the spread of the virus – or even agreeing on what action is needed.
Queiroga has already called Bolsonaro “a great Brazilian”. His social media channels have not criticized the president’s handling of the pandemic and have pushed for vaccines to be introduced quickly.
João Gabbardo, a former health ministry secretary, said on Twitter that if Queiroga is acquired, it will face the worst numbers of the pandemic in Brazil.
“The record number of deaths will be high today. A suggestion; Don’t speak out against a national lockdown, ”said Gabbardo, who now works for the Sao Paulo state government.
Tuesday night Brazil reported a record 2,841 confirmed deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, 558 more than Wednesday’s previous all-time high.
In a press conference on Monday, Pazuello admitted that Bolsonaro wanted to replace him. The first candidate for the job, cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, turned him down.
Pazuello’s two predecessors left the position due to a disagreement with Bolsonaro, who criticized broad social distancing and supported the use of an unproven anti-malarial drug to treat the disease. Despite admonitions and studies from health experts showing that the drug has no effect on Covid-19, he continues to hold these positions.
Pazuello proved to be more compliant. Immediately after taking the job, his ministry supported the use and distribution of the malaria pill. On several occasions, he has said that his boss is telling him what to do and he obeys.
Bolsonaro told supporters at the entrance to the presidential residence in Brasilia on Monday that there would be a transition period of up to two weeks with the outgoing and incoming ministers.
“Pazuello’s work in the management part was well done. Now we are in a phase that is more aggressive in the fight against the virus, ”said the Brazilian president.
Brazil has recorded nearly 280,000 deaths from the virus, almost all of which were on Pacuello’s watch. The number of victims has recently deteriorated. Currently, an average of more than 1,800 people die each day in the nation. Big cities’ health systems are on the verge of collapse and lawmakers allied with Bolsonaro have proposed suitable substitutes for Pazuello while threatening to increase pressure for an investigation into his handling of the crisis.
The country’s supreme court is also investigating Pazuello for alleged neglect that contributed to the health system collapse in the Amazon state earlier this year. This probe is now being sent to a judge in a low court.
In one particularly embarrassing episode, after confusing the abbreviations for each state, his department inadvertently sent a shipment of vaccines for the Amazon state to the neighboring Amapa state and vice versa.
Pazuello has been heavily criticized for the slow adoption of vaccines in Brazil. According to Our World in Data, an online research site that compares official government statistics, only 5.4 percent of Brazilians have been vaccinated. Almost all of them were recordings by the Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, which Bolsonaro repeatedly cast doubt on.
The only vaccine deal that Pazuello had signed at the time for 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca push has so far only shot the Brazilians a few shots in the arms. His ministry has since sought agreements with other suppliers and recently signed contracts to acquire the Pfizer and Sputnik V recordings.