BRASILIA, April 15 (Reuters) – Brazilian Health Minister Henrique Mandetta told his team that President Jair Bolsonaro will likely fire him this week, two people with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday, increasing the likelihood of a crisis in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak.
Mandetta told aides Tuesday night that he plans to remain in office until Bolsonaro chooses his successor, the sources said, who spoke on condition of anonymity so they could discuss confidential talks.
Bolsonaro and Mandetta have not agreed on the management of the epidemic for weeks. The president downplayed the severity of COVID-19, recommended untested medications, and attacked governors who had ordered quarantines.
Mandetta emerged from his relatively low profile with technical reports presenting the latest in science, emphasizing the need for social distancing measures and receiving praise from across the political spectrum.
The response of the Ministry of Health to the epidemic was rated “good” or “excellent” by 76% of Brazilians interviewed by Datafolha this month. Bolsonaro obtained the same ratings from only 33% of the respondents.
In addition to the tensions, Mandetta called on Sunday for a unified government response, virtually targeting Bolsonaro for minimizing the threat earlier than what could be the toughest two months for the outbreak.
Vice President Hamilton Mourão said Tuesday that Mandetta had “crossed the line” with his comments.
The Ministry of Health later reported the resignation of the Health Secretary, Wanderson de Oliveira, in the context of the escalation of tensions over the management of the coronavirus crisis.
(Report by Lisandra Paraguassu, written by Gabriela Mello; edited in Spanish by Janisse Huambachano and Carlos Serrano)