Brazilian Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned on Friday after just weeks on the job, adding to turmoil in President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of an accelerating coronavirus outbreak in one of the world’s worst hot spots.
Teich, whom Bolsonaro had criticised as being too timid in the push to reopen the economy and advocate the use of anti-malarial drugs to fight the virus, said he had decided to resign from his position.
During a news conference on Friday, Teich thanked Bolsonaro for offering him the opportunity to work as the health minister and said he had given it his best, but gave no reason for why he was leaving the position.
The loss of his second health minister in less than a month spurred criticism of the right-wing president from politicians and calls for his impeachment. In Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where the disease has pushed public hospitals to capacity, Brazilians banged pots and pans from their windows in protest
Military members of the Brazilian cabinet are pushing for deputy health minister Eduardo Pazuello, an army general on active duty, to become the new health minister, making permanent his interim role, a government source told Reuters news agency.
Teich struggled to reach consensus with state governments over guidelines on reopening their economies, as Bolsonaro has demanded. He expressed surprise at a recent press conference when he learned of a presidential decree allowing gyms, beauty parlours and hairdressers to open for business.
The last straw for Teich may have been Bolsonaro’s insistence on a wider use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus, which the minister has resisted due to a lack of scientific evidence.
The United States Food and Drug Administration last month cautioned against the use of the malaria drug, which US President Donald Trump has touted as a “game-changer”. Medical researchers have found that the drug, first approved in 1955, provided no benefit and potentially higher risk of death for COVID-19 patients.
Teich resigned a day after Brazil reported a record number of new coronavirus cases. He had replaced Luiz Mandetta, who was forced out on April 16 for resisting Bolsonaro’s pressure to promote hydroxychloroquine and fight state government social distancing orders.
This week, Brazil passed Germany and France in coronavirus cases, with more than 200,000 confirmed diagnoses by Thursday, when the health ministry reported 844 new deaths, bringing the death toll to 13,933.
Opposition and allied politicians criticised Bolsonaro’s intransigence. Lawmaker Marcelo Ramos of the centrist Liberal Party said the president would only accept a minister without regard for science-based public health policy.
Congressional opposition leader Alessandro Molon warned that Brazil was heading towards a public health catastrophe and said the president should be impeached.
“Bolsonaro does not want a technical minister; he wants someone who agrees with his ideological insanity, like ending social distancing and using chloroquine,” Molon, a lawmaker from the Brazilian Socialist Party, said in a statement.
Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus has been widely criticised globally as he has minimised the severity of the disease and told Brazilians to ignore quarantine restrictions.
“Let us pray,” former minister Mandetta said on Twitter after Teich’s resignation, calling for faith in science and support for Brazil’s public health system.