Jair Bolsonaro’s former health minister has accused the Brazilian president of failing to offer “a single word of comfort” to the families of the 100,000 Brazilians who have lost their lives to Covid-19.
In an interview marking Brazil’s latest Covid-19 milepost, Luiz Henrique Mandetta – who was sacked in April after challenging the president’s internationally condemned coronavirus response – expressed consternation that Brazil’s leaders had failed to recognise so much pain.
“There are 100,000 Brazilian families who have yet to receive a single word of comfort or solidarity from the government,” Mandetta told the newspaper O Globo.
Brazil’s official coronavirus death toll was poised to top 100,000 on Saturday, with its total rising to 99,572 on Friday after another 1,079 deaths.
But on the eve of that milestone Bolsonaro urged his country’s 210m citizens to put the unfinished tragedy behind them.
“We regret all of the deaths,” the far-right populist said during his weekly live broadcast. “But let’s get on with our lives, get on with our lives and try to find a way of getting away with this problem.”
Without offering proof, Bolsonaro insinuated state governors were deliberately inflating their Covid-19 death tolls in order “to panic the population”.
Speaking to O Globo’s daily podcast, Ao Ponto, Mandetta attacked the Bolsonaro administration’s “misguided” reaction and the decision, after his dismissal, to hand control of the health ministry to military officials with no knowledge of health.
Bolsonaro lost a second health minister, Nelson Teich, less than a month after Mandetta’s sacking, before making an active duty army general his interim chief.
“You can’t go to war with doctors. You can’t do healthcare with soldiers,” said Mandetta, who said the ministry needed to be “immediately” repopulated with health experts.
Mandetta, a doctor as well as a professional politician, also accused Bolsonaro of using hydroxychloroquine – which the president promotes as a treatment for Covid-19 despite proof it is ineffective – to distract from his botched response.
“Chloroquine was brought into the debate as political prop designed to prevent the decisions taken by the president of the republic, to dismantle the health ministry … from being discussed. His responsibility [for the crisis] needed to be diminished and he used chloroquine to mitigate his responsibility,” said Mandetta who has hinted he will challenge Bolsonaro in the 2022 election.
Mandetta said he believed Bolsonaro’s decision to downplay Covid-19 and blame China, where the pandemic began, for Brazil’s woes could be traced back to a meeting with Donald Trump in early March.
“I’ve no doubt that the Trump administration directly influences the Bolsonaro administration,” the 55-year-old politician said, adding: “They both had an eminently political vision of the health crisis.”
“The difference was that when the US president grasped the scale of the tragedy that was going to be attributed to him [and] saw that American society would not forgive him for his denial of the illness, his stance against isolation and distancing, and the deaths that would come, [he changed tack].”
Bolsonaro, in contrast, “radicalized”, doubling down on his denial of the pandemic and his responsibility for fighting it.
“So what?” Brazil’s president said of the rising death toll in April, shortly after Mandetta’s dismissal. “I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”
“My name’s Messiah – but I can’t work miracles,” Bolsonaro added in reference to his second name, Messias.
Mandetta said it was Brazil’s world-renowned national health service, the SUS, that had partially reduced the suffering by largely coping with the wave of Covid-19 patients.
Without its efforts, “we would now be in a situation of every man for himself … In a state of barbarism”, he said.
On Thursday Bolsonaro claimed his government had done “the possible and the impossible” to save lives. “Our consciences are clear.”