President Jair Bolsonaro has praised his supporters for staging anti-social distancing protests as Brazil announced a record of more than 90,000 daily infections.
'Logically, I was happy,' Bolsonaro said of the protests which swept the country. 'They show that the people are alive ... we want our freedom, we want the world to respect our constitution.'
Brazil, Latin America's largest country with a population of 211 million, recorded 90,303 new cases on Wednesday - a day after it set a new record for deaths, with 2,841 fatalities on Tuesday.
Brazil's latest #COVID19 wave is becoming tragic beyond measure. 🇧🇷 has “plunged into crisis”. Patients are dying waiting for ICU beds. #P1 variant is 2-2.5x faster transmission. More younger 20-30s patients now dying, unlike before.🧵— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) March 17, 2021
For months, it has been recording more deaths and cases than any other country in the world but Bolsonaro's supporters refuse to bow to their regional governors who, in many states, are placing them under strict lockdowns.
Demonstrators poured onto the city of Sau Paulo on Sunday, holding banners and placards denouncing new lockdown measures as they cheered for Bolsonaro.
In Brasilia, last week, a motorcade rolled through the city to protest new measures announced by the governor.
And in the southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, demonstrators also raised signs warning: 'Lockdown kills.'
The healthcare system across the country has been overwhelmed and in Sau Paulo, the wealthiest state, patients have died while waiting for intensive care beds.
Doctors have been desperately calling for a package of federally mandated restrictions to combat the spread of the disease.
Over the president's objections, the Supreme Court last year upheld cities' and states' jurisdiction to impose restrictions on activity.
Even so, Bolsonaro consistently condemned their moves, saying the economy needed to keep churning and that isolation would cause depression.
Governors have been torn between a special Covid council set up among themselves to agree measures and their political loyalties to the president.
The president this week sacked yet another health minister - hiring a cardiologist to takeover as the fourth since the pandemic started.
In recent days, Bolsonaro nominated a cardiologist to become the country's fourth health minister since the pandemic started.
Dr. Marcelo Queiroga replaced Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general with expertise in logistics who landed the position last May despite having no prior health experience.
Queiroga said on Tuesday that the coronavirus policy he will implement 'is of the Bolsonaro administration, not of the health minister.'
'I came to work for Brazil and other ministers of the Bolsonaro administration. The president is very worried about the situation,' said Queiroga, who insisted he is against any lockdown measures. Some Brazilian cities are implementing restrictive shutdowns to halt the spread.
Queiroga lauded Bolsonaro 'a great Brazilian' and his social media channels have not made any criticism of the president's handling of the pandemic and pushed for a quick vaccine rollout.
Pazuello had presided over the health ministry for the longest period of the three pandemic ministers before Queiroga.
The revolving door reflects the challenges for the government of Latin America's largest nation to implement effective measures to control the virus' spread -- or even agree which measures are necessary.
Pazuello's two predecessors resigned from the position amid disagreements with Bolsonaro, who criticized broad social distancing and supported the use of an unproven anti-malarial drug to treat the disease.
He continues to hold those positions, despite health experts' admonishments and studies showing the drug has no effect on COVID-19.
Pazuello proved more compliant. Immediately after taking the job, his ministry backed use and distribution of the malaria pill. On several occasions, he said that his boss tells him what to do, and he obeys.
What makes Brazil's surrender to the pandemic even more heart-breaking is that the country has the experts, the knowledge and the public health infrastructure - including one of the world’s largest free public health systems - which could have avoided this tragedy.— Oliver Stuenkel 🇧🇷 (@OliverStuenkel) March 17, 2021
Bolsonaro told supporters at the entrance of the presidential residence in Brasilia on Monday that there will be a transition period of up to two weeks with the outgoing and the incoming minister.
'Pazuello's work was well done in the management part. Now we are in a phase that is more aggressive in the fight against the virus,' Brazil's president said.
Brazil has recorded almost 280,000 deaths from the virus, nearly all of which were on Pazuello's watch.
The toll has been worsening lately, with the nation averaging more than 1,800 deaths each day in the last week.
Health care systems of major cities are at the brink of collapse, and lawmakers allied with Bolsonaro have proposed suitable replacements for Pazuello, while threatening to step up pressure for an investigation into his handling of the crisis.
The country's top court is also investigating Pazuello for alleged neglect that contributed to the collapse of the health care system in the state of Amazonas earlier this year. That probe will now be sent to a low court judge.
In a particularly embarrassing episode, his ministry accidentally dispatched a shipment of vaccines intended for Amazonas to neighboring state of Amapa, and vice versa, after confusing the abbreviations for each state.
Pazuello has faced intense criticism for Brazil's slow vaccine rollout. According to Our World in Data, an online research site that compares official government statistics, only 5.4% of Brazilians have been vaccinated. Almost all were shots from Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac, which Bolsonaro repeatedly cast doubt upon.
The only vaccine deal Pazuello had signed at the time, for 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, has brought few shots to the arms of Brazilians so far. His ministry has since scrambled to cobble together agreements with other suppliers, recently concluding deals to acquire the Pfizer and Sputnik V shots.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.