Brazil's incoming health minister says mission is to unify fight against COVID-19

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Brazilian cardiologist Queiroga is set to become the country's new health minister

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's incoming Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Wednesday that he has been given the mission of unifying the country's fight against COVID-19 by President Jair Bolsonaro.

Queiroga did not provide details of what that approach would look like, but spoke of the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing in an apparent departure from Bolsonaro's ridiculing of masks and stay-at-home measures.

"The mission I received is to unify the national effort to fight the pandemic," Queiroga told a news conference in Rio de Janeiro.

"We will reduce deaths with two main approaches. Firstly with social distancing policies that reduce the circulation of the virus, secondly with improved care capacity in our hospitals," he added.

The incoming minister was speaking at an event to mark the delivery of the first doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine produced in Brazil, with imported active ingredients. Over 1 million doses will be delivered this week, officials said.

President Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the pandemic, railing against lockdowns and pushing unproven remedies such as hydroxychloroquine.

It is unclear whether Queiroga, a respected cardiologist, will succeed in changing tack and bring a spiraling epidemic under control. On Tuesday, Brazil reported a record daily death toll of 2,841.

A new opinion poll by Datafolha showed 54% of respondents regard the president's handling of the COVID-19 crisis as bad or very bad, the highest of any time during the pandemic.

(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer, Editing by Franklin Paul and Barbara Lewis)