SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s health minister urged the government to speak with a unified voice in its fight against the new coronavirus, calling out President Jair Bolsonaro for downplaying the threat ahead of what are likely to be the two toughest months for the outbreak.
In an television interview airing late on Sunday, Health Minister Henrique Mandetta also criticized people for gathering in public without referring directly to Bolsonaro, who hit the streets over the weekend, drawing crowds and greeting followers.
“I hope we can speak with a single, unified message, because otherwise Brazilians end up doubting. They don’t know whether to listen to the health minister, the president. Who should they listen to,” Mandetta said.
Although the minister dodged what many expected would be a firing last week, he and the president remain at odds over the outbreak, with Bolsonaro criticizing isolation policies and suggesting the worst may already be past.
Brazil’s death toll rose to 1,223 people on Sunday, 99 more than the previous day’s tally, while the number of confirmed cases hit 22,169, according to Health Ministry data.
Still, the far-right president, a former army captain, told evangelical Christian leaders in a video address on Sunday that “it seems the matter of the virus is starting to go away.”
In the interview airing later on Sunday, however, Mandetta warned that the hardest days of the outbreak will be felt in May and June.
“The behavior of society is what will dictate the coming weeks,” the minister added. “When you see people entering bakeries, supermarkets, queueing one close to the other, this is clearly wrong,” he said.
Reporting by Eduardo Simões; Writing by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Brad Haynes and Steve Orlofsky