Brazil’s Minister of Health has confirmed that President Jair Bolsonaro is looking for candidates who could replace him, as the country continues to face a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Eduardo Pazuello said on Monday that he would not resign, but that “the president is thinking of a replacement in the ministry and evaluating the names”.
“It is true that the president is thinking of a substitution,” he said at a press conference, promising to ensure “continuity” and “an adequate transition” in the event of a replacement.
Pazuello, Brazil’s third Minister of Health during the pandemic, has been criticized for his lack of public health expertise and his support for an earlier surge by Bolsonaro, a COVID-19 skeptic who downplayed his threat, to use drugs not proven to fight the virus.
The two predecessors of the Minister of Health resigned last year, in part because they would not fully approve of treating COVID-19 patients with the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
Brazil has so far reported more than 11.4 million cases of COVID-19, just behind the United States, while more than 278,000 people have died in the South American nation.
On Monday, the Department of Health said 36,239 cases of COVID-19 and 1,015 additional coronavirus-related deaths had been reported in the past 24 hours.
In February, the Attorney General of Brazil open a preliminary investigation into Pazuello and Bolsonaro for possible negligence after the health network of the Amazon city of Manaus was pushed to its limits amid an outbreak of infections.
Relatives of COVID-19 patients in Manaus have been forced to fill oxygen tanks themselves due to widespread shortages, and in some cases families have treated loved ones at home because hospitals were full.
The lack of oxygen prompted Brazil to fly supplies by air to Amazonas, which is also where a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 has been discovered.
Bolsonaro continued to face criticism and public anger over his government’s handling of the pandemic, as infections and deaths from coronaviruses continued to rise.
Despite the high rates of infections, some Brazilians have protested against recent local and regional COVID-19 lockdowns aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.
Over the weekend, authorities dispersed two large gatherings in Sao Paulo: a party in a nightclub with 600 people in attendance and a gathering of around 200 people in an underground casino.
The governor of the state of Sao Paulo, which has 46.3 million people, imposed tougher coronavirus restrictions earlier this month, including shutting down non-essential businesses.
Daniel Schweimler of Al Jazeera reported on Sunday that some people “brazenly break the rules.”
“So despite the information available, people continue to go about their business, party and go to the beach, no matter what,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pazuello said on Monday that Brazil had ordered 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 38 million from Johnson & Johnson, as it negotiated for 13 million doses of the vaccine from Moderna Inc.
So far, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the country has been marred by delays and inefficiencies.
About 4.6 percent of the population received at least one dose.
An official from the Fiocruz biomedical center also said that Brazil could start full local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine by July if regulators allow it to waive some controls, pushing back an earlier target date of September 30.
“It would be important at a time when Brazil faces a vaccine shortage,” Fiocruz vice-president Marco Krieger told Reuters news agency.