Brazil’s Bolsonaro pushes again to loosen Covid-19 restrictions

Brasilia, Apr 17 (efe-epa).- President Jair Bolsonaro took the opportunity of Friday’s swearing-in of Brazil’s new health minister to renew his call to roll back the restrictions on movement and activity enacted to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus.

“This fight to begin to open retailing is a risk I am running, because if (the pandemic) gets worse, it falls entirely on me. Now, I think, and it’s something many people already know, (retailing) has to open,” the right-wing president said during the installation of oncologist Nelson Teich at the head of the health ministry.

Teich succeeds Dr. Luiz Henrique Mandetta, fired Thursday by Bolsonaro after weeks of increasingly open friction between the two men over the proper response to the coronavirus.

Citing science, the now-former health minister took every opportunity to insist on the need for Brazilians to stay home as much as possible to contain the virus.

But Bolsonaro, who has railed at state governors for taking aggressive steps to slow the contagion, dismisses the need to shut down much of the economy for a “measly flu.”

While the president said the night before that Teich agreed with him on a plan to “gradually open” the country, the new health minister did not mention the issue Friday.

In his first comments as minister, Teich promised to focus on people as he grapples with “the biggest challenge” of his professional life.

He also vowed to devote his full attention to the plight of the poorest Brazilians, “the ones who will suffer the most,” and said that he would work to provide the public with more comprehensive information about Covid-19 to alleviate “anxiety.”

Teich said that dealing with a new virus required the formation of inter-agency task forces and assured Brazil’s 27 state governments that he would work closely with them in crafting responses to the crisis.

Present for the occasion was Mandetta, who thanked Bolsonaro for giving him the opportunity to serve and wished his successor “all the wisdom to guide Brazil.”

A poll conducted early this month by Datafolha found that 76 percent of Brazilians approved of Mandetta’s job performance, compared with 33 percent who gave Bolsonaro passing marks.

At around the same time as the ceremony in Brasilia, the governor of Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state was announcing that quarantine measures would remain in effect in all 645 municipalities in Sao Paulo until May 10.

“Here, we don’t argue with science, we respect science,” Gov. Joao Doria said during his daily Covid-19 news conference, where he was joined by the mayor of Sao Paulo city, Bruno Covas, and the team of physicians advising the state government.

The state accounts for 853 of Brazil’s more than 1,900 deaths from coronavirus and has 11,068 confirmed infections out of a national total of more than 30,000.

The number of new cases continues to rise and some of the state’s hospitals are “on the edge” of collapse, Doria said.

Nearly 2,500 people in Sao Paulo have been hospitalized for coronavirus and almost half of those patients are in serious condition.

Doria ordered all non-essential businesses in the state closed on March 24 in pursuit of reducing movement and social contact by 70 percent.

At the moment, however, the reduction is only around 49 percent, the governor said, adding that the lockdown will continue until authorities secure “greater control over the spread of the virus.”

Bolsonaro and Doria have spent weeks trading barbs about their diametrically opposed approaches to the pandemic.

The president called the governor a “lunatic” for shutting down the Sao Paulo economy, and Doria responded by saying Bolsonaro was not in sufficient possession of his mental faculties to lead the country. EFE

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