Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, under pressure over his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic amid a recent surge in cases and deaths, has formally confirmed his new health minister after days of uncertainty.
Bolsonaro, a coronavirus sceptic who has eschewed public health restrictions and lockdowns, signed a decree on Tuesday installing cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga as health minister.
Queiroga replaces army general Eduardo Pazuello, who was criticised for lacking any public health experience, to become Brazil’s fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic.
“The new minister meets the technical requirements and has the spotless reputation required for the position, with ample experience not only in health care but management,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Brazil has grappled with a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths in recent weeks, as hospitals and other healthcare facilities are being pushed to their limits.
The country has reported over 12 million COVID-19 cases to date, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, as well as more than 295,000 deaths.
Bolsonaro is faced growing criticism for the coronavirus crisis, but the far-right president has maintained his anti-lockdown stance, telling Brazilians that such measures worsen poverty.
Despite recent high rates of infections, some Brazilians have protested against local and regional COVID-19 lockdown measures that aim to stem the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, Brazil’s Supreme Court refused to hear Bolsonaro’s appeal against several states’ coronavirus-related measures restricting economic activity, according to a document seen by the Reuters news agency.
Queiroga told reporters last week that he plans to follow Bolsonaro’s plan to combat the virus.
“Minister Pazuello has been working hard to improve health conditions in Brazil and I was called upon by President Bolsonaro to continue this work,” he said last week.
Brazilian authorities launched a preliminary probe into Bolsonaro and Pazuello last month over their handling of a crisis in the city of Manaus, which ran out of oxygen supplies amid a surge in infections.
Brazilian officials on Tuesday also warned that oxygen for coronavirus patients was at “worrying” levels in six of the country’s 27 states.
Meanwhile, Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), warned that “the virus continues to surge dangerously across Brazil”.
“Cases and deaths are increasing, and ICU bed occupancy is very high in many states. It’s critical
for all Brazilians to adopt the preventive measures being put in place to slow transmission of
the virus. It can save your life and the lives of those closest to you,” she said during a press briefing.
She also said the situation in Brazil is affecting neighbouring countries, with COVID-19 cases rising in Venezuela – particularly in that country’s border states of Bolivar and Amazonas – and in Peru.