Brazil's Bolsonaro installs fourth health minister of pandemic

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Joao Aquino Filho (R), 71, is vaccinated by a health worker with a dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in the Nossa Senhora Livramento community on the banks of the Rio Negro near Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil on February 9, 2021

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro formally installed his fourth health minister of the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, ending a week of uncertainty over who actually held the post amid a deadly surge of Covid-19.

The far-right president signed the decree installing cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga as health minister in a private ceremony, replacing army general Eduardo Pazuello, the health ministry said in a statement.

"The new minister meets the technical requirements and has the spotless reputation required for the position, with ample experience not only in health care but management," it said.

Bolsonaro announced on Monday last week that he was firing Pazuello, whose handling of the pandemic was widely criticized, and replacing him with Queiroga, 55.

But an unusual limbo ensued when the president took more than a week to officially install Queiroga -- drawing accusations of chaotic crisis management at a point when Brazil is struggling with an explosion of Covid-19 that has pushed many hospitals to the breaking point.

Brazilian media reports said Bolsonaro was scrambling to find a way to keep Pazuello's ministerial immunity, so as to protect him from being prosecuted for the ministry's shortcomings during his 10-month tenure.

Pazuello notably faces investigation for failing to ensure oxygen supplies to the northern city of Manaus, where there were horrific scenes in January of Covid-19 patients suffocating to death when hospitals ran out.

Reports said Tuesday that Pazuello would be named to take over Brazil's Program of Investment Partnerships, a government initiative to promote public-private infrastructure partnerships.

Brazil's average daily Covid-19 death toll has more than tripled since the start of the year, to 2,306, currently the highest worldwide.

Experts say the surge is being fueled by a local variant of the virus that is suspected to be more contagious.

More than 295,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, second only to the United States.

Bolsonaro's first two health ministers of the pandemic, Doctors Luiz Henrique Mandetta and Nelson Teich, both fell out with the president over his defiance of expert advice on containing the virus.