Brazil sets new COVID deaths record as health minister sworn in

Marcelo Queiroga is fourth health minister in hard-hit South American nation since start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relatives of Vani Macedo, 65, who died from COVID-19, react during her burial at Vila Formosa cemetery, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 23 [Amanda Perobelli/Reuters]

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has confirmed his fourth health minister since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the South American country registered a new single-day record for coronavirus deaths.

Bolsonaro, a coronavirus sceptic who continues to reject public health restrictions and lockdowns despite a recent surge in coronavirus infections, signed a decree on Tuesday installing cardiologist Dr Marcelo Queiroga as health minister.

Queiroga replaces Army General Eduardo Pazuello, who was criticised for lacking any public health experience.

“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 registered 3,251 additional coronavirus-deaths on Tuesday – a new record – as the country continues to grapple with a surge in infections that has pushed hospitals and other healthcare facilities to their limits.

The country has reported more than 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 facing growing criticism for the ongoing 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 earlier this year.

The country’s vaccine distribution scheme also has been plagued by inefficiencies, spurring public anger.

The Fiocruz Institute, which is producing the AstraZeneca vaccine, said on Tuesday it would only deliver 18.8 million jabs in April, down from an initial forecast of 30 million.

Only 2.6 percent of Brazilian adults have so far received two vaccines doses, according to a Fiocruz survey, while 7.6 percent of the population, or 12.1 million people, have received one jab.

Brazilian officials also said oxygen for coronavirus patients was at “worrying” levels in six of the country’s 27 states.

Meanwhile, Dr Carissa Etienne, the World Health Organization 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies