Bolsonaro threatens to sack health minister over coronavirus criticism

Brazilian president warns Luiz Henrique Mandetta not to speak out against him in public

Jair Bolsonaro has reportedly told his health minister he will sack him if he dares criticise his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

According to a report in the Estado de São Paulo newspaper, the Brazilian president’s warning came during a top-level meeting on Saturday as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country rose to more than 3,900 and the death toll hit 114.

The health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, reportedly informed Brazil’s far-right leader he would have no choice but to publicly criticise him if he insisted on going out in public despite warnings to stay indoors.

“Bolsonaro replied that, if he did so, he would fire him,” the conservative newspaper reported, citing anonymous sources.

Bolsonaro’s downplaying of coronavirus – and his public call for Brazil to relax quarantine measures and get back to work – have appalled critics and many citizens, sparking nightly pot-banging protests in major cities.

On Friday, the president shrugged his shoulders at the likely deaths, telling an interviewer: “Some will die. I’m sorry. That’s life.”

Estado de São Paulo said that at Saturday’s summit – which was also attended by Brazil’s justice and defence ministers – Mandetta tried to convince Bolsonaro of the gravity of the situation.

He reportedly said: “Are we ready for the worst-case scenario, with army trucks transporting bodies through the streets? And cameras livestreaming that on the internet?”

Mandetta, who is an orthopaedic doctor, noted that even 1,000 deaths would be the equivalent of four Boeing aircraft crashes.

Experts believe far more people are likely to die. Recent modelling by researchers from Imperial College London suggested Brazil could have more than 1.1 million Covid-19 deaths if no action were taken to control the pandemic; 529,000 if only elderly people were forced to isolate; and 44,200 if drastic measures were implemented.

Bolsonaro’s efforts to undermine regional governments’ efforts to enforce such shutdowns have sparked a political rebellion by the governors of nearly all of Brazil’s 27 states.

Speaking to the Guardian last week, Flávio Dino, the leftwing governor of Maranhão, criticised Bolsonaro’s denial of the dangers of coronavirus and his “catastrophic” dawdling.

“If you’re on a battlefield and don’t know which weapon to use, which direction to shoot, and when to open fire, you expose the whole army to serious harm,” Dino said.

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Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

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