Brazil's Bolsonaro pulls military pick for health regulator post, bolstering pandemic response

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro reacts during a ceremony in Brasilia

BRASÍLIA (Reuters) - President Jair Bolsonaro has withdrawn his pick of a retired military man for the board of Brazil's federal health regulator Anvisa, the latest indication that he is starting to take the country's worsening coronavirus pandemic more seriously.

Bolsonaro, who has faced widespread criticism over his handling of the world's second deadliest coronavirus outbreak, originally chose Jorge Luiz Kormann to be on the board of Anvisa, which oversees approvals of vaccines for use against COVID-19.

Kormann was previously in the military-led health ministry, and his transfer to an important technocratic role at Anvisa drew widespread concern and raised doubts about whether he would be confirmed in the post by the Senate.

However, Bolsonaro has now withdrawn Kormann's name and proposed Romison Rodrigues Mota for the role, according to a post in the official gazette on Tuesday. Mota is a career civil servant who is already serving as acting Anvisa director.

The removal of Kormann appears to be part of a broader shift in Bolsonaro's attitude toward a pandemic he has long sought to portray as a "little flu." Faced with growing discontent over a record run of deaths and a slow vaccine rollout, there are signs Bolsonaro is starting to see his skeptical stance as a major threat to his hopes of re-election in 2022.

After months of decrying protective masks, he recently appeared masked, and local media have reported he is planning to get vaccinated, despite saying he would not take any shot.

Publicly, Kormann has shared Bolsonaro's interest in the unproven drug chloroquine and its cousin hydroxychloroquine for use against COVID-19.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Ana Mano; Editing by Mark Heinrich)