Brazil continues to struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely struck the country, with more than 3.5 million confirmed cases and over 112,000 COVID-related deaths. Brazilian academic Fabio Sobral has shed light on the internal fight between the federal and local governments as well as the unfolding “vaccine race” in the country.
The country’s President Jair Bolsonaro has been repeatedly subjected to criticism for his handling of the pandemic by international and domestic observers. Speaking to The Guardian last Saturday, ex-Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was sacked by the president in April, lashed out at Bolsonaro for leading Brazilians into a “deadly canyon” with his anti-scientific response to COVID-19. The country is now striving to get anti-coronavirus vaccines which could help it tackle the pandemic in the future.
COVID Spiralling Out of Control in Brazil
Brazil has undergone several phases in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, explains Professor Fabio Sobral, who teaches ecological economy at the Federal University of Ceara.
“In the first phase there was a doctor in charge of the Ministry of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who tried to implement policies of social isolation, purchase of equipment and essential supplies for the treatment of patients”, the academic points out. “His work clashed with the conceptions of President Bolsonaro, who defends the non-isolation and normal maintenance of economic activity, assuming that COVID-19 is a not very serious disease”.
After Mandetta was forced to resign, the second phase began with Nelson Teich, an oncologist and health consultant, taking the reins of the country’s Health Ministry in April. According to Sobral, Teich also stepped down in mid-May because his efforts to roll out comprehensive nationwide testing as well as to bolster the research of potential treatments and vaccines were also sabotaged and disrupted.
The third phase was marked by the appointment of Eduardo Pazuello, a division general of the Brazilian Army with no medical training, as an interim minister of health. Although previously the Health Ministry team vigorously defended quarantine measures and threw into doubt the efficiency of hydroxychloroquine energetically touted by President Bolsonaro, everything changed under Pazuello.
“Pazuello dismantled the ministry’s team of technicians and placed 15 military personnel without health training in central posts”, Sobral notes. “[Health] spending has been reduced. The use of chloroquine has been encouraged. The death toll has reached extremely high levels”.
One of the Supreme Court judges, Gilmar Mendes, dubbed the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by the federal government as “genocide” and criticised Bolsonaro’s decision to put the military in charge of the nation’s health.
The pandemic exposed divisions between the federal and local governments as the latter sought to implement independent policies in a bid to curb the pandemic, according to Sobral. In April, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that state governors have the authority to implement quarantine measures, axing Bolsonaro’s attempt to strip them of these rights.
The 1988 constitution, which was drafted after the country’s return to democracy from military dictatorship in 1985, guarantees a certain level of independence for Brazil’s state and local levels of government.