Bolsonaro names fourth Brazilian health minister of Covid-19 pandemic

Anti-lockdown and pro-chloroquine Marcelo Queiroga takes portfolio amid fatalities surge

Cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga will replace Eduardo Pazuello who, for  10 months, oversaw catastrophic health missteps as Covid-19 deaths near 300,000. Photograph: Joedson Alves

Cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga will replace Eduardo Pazuello who, for 10 months, oversaw catastrophic health missteps as Covid-19 deaths near 300,000. Photograph: Joedson Alves

 

Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is to appoint his fourth health minister of the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to head off mounting public anger at his mishandling of the worsening health emergency.

Mr Bolsonaro announced cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga would replace Eduardo Pazuello, the beleaguered army general who in 10 months in charge oversaw a series of increasingly catastrophic missteps that have left the administration on the defensive as deaths have surged in recent weeks towards 300,000.

But Mr Queiroga only accepted the job after the president’s initial choice refused his invitation after what she said was a campaign of intimidation against her. Doctor Ludhmila Hajjar went to Brasília on Sunday to meet with Mr Bolsonaro, sparking a wave of attacks against her by the president’s supporters on social media.

President’s allies

Ms Hajjar, who had the backing of the president’s allies in Congress, said she received death threats while an attempt was made to invade the hotel she was staying in while in the capital. She incurred the wrath of Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters because of her defence of measures such as masks, social distancing protocols and vaccines, all of which he and his family have criticised during the pandemic.

The president has consistently sought to downplay the impact of a pandemic that has claimed 279,602 lives in Brazil. A government minister denied Ms Hajjar was ever offered the portfolio.

In his first interview after being picked for the job, Mr Queiroga, a friend of the Bolsonaro family whose appointment dismayed allies in Congress, attacked lockdowns as a means of tackling the pandemic despite daily average deaths hitting record levels and health systems across the country warning of possible collapse.

Signature policy

He has also sought to defend the use of chloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19, despite acknowledging research showing it is of no use in combating the disease. Mr Bolsonaro has been a fanatical advocate of the anti-malarial treatment and ordered the military to produce millions of doses of the drug.

Promotion of chloroquine was a signature policy during Mr Pazuello’s tenure as health minister, which was marked by failures such as one in January when his team ignored warnings that the jungle city of Manaus was running out of oxygen, leading to the deaths of dozens of patients in their beds.

More controversially, Mr Pazuello rescinded plans by his ministry to buy the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine after the president ordered him to because it was being developed in the country by the governor of São Paulo, a political rival. Explaining his decision, the general said: “One commands and the other obeys.”

Today CoronaVac supplied by São Paulo is the backbone of the country’s stuttering vaccine rollout.