File image: Jair Bolsonaro
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to fire his health minister if he publicly criticises the way the South American country has handled the coronavirus outbreak.
According to a report in Independent, Brazil’s Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has been at odds with Bolsonaro over his refusal to take COVID-19 seriously, dismissing the pandemic as “just the sniffles”.
The Brazilian President has been campaigning against isolation measures and openly flouting social distancing guidelines. On March 29, he visited a market area just outside the Brazilian capital to press home his case for keeping Latin America's largest economy ticking, instead of locking down activities to combat the spread of the deadly virus.
According to the report, Mandetta told Bolsonaro during a cabinet meeting that he will be left with no choice but to criticise him if he fails to pay heed to the guidelines issued by the government. To this, Bolsonaro said, “If he did so, I would fire him.”
Mandetta also reportedly told Bolsonaro that he doesn’t agree with the latter’s proposal to isolate only the old and the ill as a way to curtail the spread of coronavirus, as well as reduce the economic impact of the pandemic.
During a press conference, Mandetta said his measures will be guided by scientific experts, explaining that isolation should be undertaken by everyone as the country’s health services was not adequately equipped to deal with a sudden surge in patients.
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He also said chloroquine, which is used to treat malaria and defended by 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.
Despite confirmed Brazilian cases of COVID-19 almost tripling in seven days to 4,256 by March 29, Bolsonaro has continued to deny the gravity of the disease, calling it "a small cold" that would kill only old people. The disease has caused 136 deaths in Brazil so far, and almost 34,000 globally.
Bolsonaro, as a part of his “Brazil can’t stop” campaign, has been putting up videos, encouraging Brazilians to keep working to earn their incomes while taking precautions not to catch COVID-19. His campaign was banned by a federal judge in Rio de Janeiro, and his posts were pulled down by Twitter.
He has also lashed out at state and municipal officials who, in steps aimed at saving lives implemented tough lockdowns, closed non-essential businesses and banned public meetings, even in churches.