Brazil’s health minister resigned on Friday less than a month after he took office after clashing with President Jair Bolsonaro over how to deal with Latin America’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
The resignation of Nelson Teich comes as Brazil struggles to contain the pandemic, which has killed more than 14,000 people in the region’s largest nation.
A trained oncologist, Mr Teich was appointed health minister in April after his predecessor was sacked by Mr Bolsonaro for backing global health guidelines on social isolation.
The Brazilian president has for weeks been lobbying Brazil’s state governors to put an end to lockdowns and to reopen businesses, claiming that unemployment and hunger will kill more people than the virus.
On Monday, Mr Bolsonaro blindsided Mr Teich by declaring that gyms and beauty salons are essential businesses and should reopen. Mr Teich was only informed of the decision by a journalist at a press conference. The presidential decree, however, was subsequently ignored by many state governors.
The two men also clashed over the president’s insistence on promoting antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients, despite little scientific evidence of their effectiveness.
“We are the only country to change health minister twice during a pandemic. Bolsonaro only wants close to him those who agree with his ignorance,” said Tabata Amaral, an opposition lawmaker.
“We are losing hundreds of lives a day. It is already more than evident that the president chose to be part of the problem, not the solution.”
Mr Teich’s exit is likely to fuel further instability in the Bolsonaro administration, which is still reeling from the shock exit just weeks ago of justice minister Sergio Moro.
As he departed his post, Mr Moro claimed that Mr Bolsonaro was interfering in police investigations — allegations that have since triggered a formal probe into the Brazilian president.
If indicted — and the indictment is approved by Congress — Mr Bolsonaro could be removed from office for 180 days.
The political crisis has unfolded in parallel with the health crisis. While most nations have at this point managed to flatten their infection curves, Brazil is still reporting soaring numbers of cases and deaths.
On Thursday, the country reported a daily tally of almost 14,000 new cases and 850 deaths.
“Teich’s departure less than a month after he was invited to the ministry lays bare the mess that is the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis,” said Thomaz Favaro, Brazil analyst with Control Risks.
“Having seen the limits set on his predecessor, Teich always knew he had a narrow margin to work with. His resignation suggests that he probably overestimated the size of that margin, which is as thin as a rail. Bolsonaro continues to mix personal opinions with policymaking and whoever succeeds Teich will have to work under that assumption.”
Mr Teich is expected to be replaced by an officer from Brazil’s military. Mr Bolsonaro has already appointed generals to several ministerial posts in his cabinet, raising fears about the resurgent role of the military in Brazilian society.
Officers are also active in the ministry of health’s virus response, although public health officials there claim the military staff are out of their depth.
“Brazil wakes up every day afraid of aggression to democracy, to the constitution, to the Congress, to the supreme court,” said João Doria, governor of São Paulo, on Friday.
“President Bolsonaro, govern! Run your country with balance and peace and stop this endless aggression.”