Bolsonaro renews call to ease COVID-19 restrictions

Brasilia, April 18 (IANS) Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has renewed his call to roll back the restrictions on movement and activity enacted to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

“This fight to begin to open retailing is a risk I am running, because if (the pandemic) gets worse, it falls entirely on me. Now, I think, and it's something many people already know, (retailing) has to open,” the President said on Friday during the swearing in of oncologist Nelson Teich as the new Health Ministry.

Teich replaces Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was fired on Thursday by Bolsonaro after weeks of an increasing friction between the two over the proper response to the health crisis.

Citing science, Mandetta had insisted on the need for Brazilians to stay home as much as possible to contain the virus.

But Bolsonaro, who has railed at state governors for taking aggressive steps to slow the contagion, dismisses the need to shut down much of the economy for a “measly flu”.

While the President had earlier said that Teich agreed with him on a plan to “gradually open” the country, the latter did not mention the issue on Friday.

Teich said that dealing with a new virus required the formation of inter-agency task forces and assured Brazil's 27 state governments that he would work closely with them in crafting responses to the crisis.

A poll conducted early this month by Datafolha found that 76 per cent of Brazilians approved of Mandetta's job performance, compared with the 33 per cent who backed Bolsonaro.

Also on Friday, Sau Paulo Governor Joao Doria announced that quarantine measures would remain in effect in all 645 municipalities in the the country's most populous state until May 10.

The state accounts for 853 of Brazil's more than 1,900 deaths from coronavirus and has 11,068 confirmed infections out of a national total of more than 30,000.

The number of new cases continues to rise and some of the state's hospitals were “on the edge” of collapse, Doria said.

Nearly 2,500 people in Sao Paulo have been hospitalized for coronavirus and almost half of those patients are in serious condition.

Doria ordered all non-essential businesses in the state closed on March 24 in pursuit of reducing movement and social contact by 70 percent.

Bolsonaro and Doria have spent weeks trading barbs about their diametrically opposed approaches to the pandemic.

The president called the governor a “lunatic” for shutting down the Sao Paulo economy, and Doria responded by saying Bolsonaro was not in sufficient to lead the country.



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