Coronavirus Updates: Brazil’s Health Minister Is Ousted in Clash Over Lockdowns

Coronavirus Updates: Brazil’s Health Minister Is Ousted in Clash Over Lockdowns

Brazil’s president fires the health minister in a clash over lockdown measures.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on Thursday fired his health minister after a disagreement over how tough lockdown measures should be.

Mr. Bolsonaro had repeatedly butted heads with the minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who pushed for strict social isolation guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation.

Mr. Bolsonaro, who has played down the gravity of the pandemic, favors keeping older people at home while allowing younger Brazilians to continue to work and move around with relative ease. He has warned that severe restrictions could mean widespread job losses.

Mr. Bolsonaro and Mr. Mandetta also sparred over a malaria drug being studied as a treatment for some coronavirus patients. Mr. Bolsonaro has portrayed the drug as a reliable cure, but Mr. Mandetta has been far more cautious.

Their disagreements, which played out publicly in recent weeks, left Brazilians with conflicting messages from the federal government.

Most governors have sided with Mr. Mandetta. Starting in mid-March, they ordered business shutdowns, curtailed public transportation and urged people to stay at home to the extent possible. Those measures have also put Brazil on track to shed millions of jobs and enter into a deep recession.

“The medicine to treat the patient cannot have collateral effects that are more severe than the illness,” Mr. Bolsonaro said.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, called Mr. Mandetta’s dismissal an “incredibly irresponsible decision” and speculated that it was driven by the minister’s growing popularity as he publicly confronted his boss. “The president’s ego couldn’t handle it,” Mr. Bremmer wrote on Twitter.

In a televised address Thursday night, Mr. Bolsonaro called Mr. Mandetta’s departure a “consensual divorce.” As the president spoke, Brazilians in several cities took to their windows to bang pots in protest and cry, “Out with Bolsonaro!”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Brazil had recorded 1,924 coronavirus deaths and more than 30,400 diagnosed cases.

Mr. Mandetta, a center-right lawmaker, saw his popularity soar as he presided over daily press conferences. His steady style provided a sharp contrast to Mr. Bolsonaro’s tempestuous handling of the crisis. The president has spoken flippantly about the pandemic, saying that Brazilians would not catch he disease because they can be dunked in raw sewage “and don’t catch anything.”

Mr. Bolsonaro appointed a Rio de Janeiro oncologist, Nelson Teich, to head the health ministry. Appearing alongside Mr. Bolsonaro, the new minister said: “Health and the economy don’t compete against each other, they are complementary. Here everything will be handled in a technical and scientific way.”

China’s National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday morning that the country’s economic output shrank 6.8 percent from January through March compared to the same period last year. It’s the first economic shrinkage acknowledged in official statistics since 1976, when the country was in the final days of the Cultural Revolution, a national spasm of urban violence and torture.

The stark numbers reflect China’s dramatic efforts to stamp out the coronavirus, which included shutting down most factories and offices in January and February as the outbreak sickened tens of thousands of people.

They also illustrate how hard it will be to get the global economy back on its feet.

China is trying to restart its vast, $14 trillion economy, an effort that could give the rest of the world a much-needed shot in the arm. But the spread of the virus to Europe and the United States has sharply cut the world’s appetite for China’s goods. That could lead to factory shutdowns and worker furloughs.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics confirmed last month that domestic industrial production, retail sales and investment all suffered record, double-digit drops in the first two months of this year compared with the same period of 2019.

“This year is difficult — some have lost their jobs, some cannot find work to do,” said Liu Xia, a fruit vendor from a village on the northern outskirts of Beijing. “Those who do go to work and those who are still in business are greatly affected.”

Beijing’s options for dealing with the crisis are limited. Its economy has become too big and complex to easily restart like it did in 2008, when it unveiled a plan to spend more than half a trillion dollars. And years of easy lending have left local governments and state-run companies mired in debt.

Singapore announced a record jump in coronavirus cases for the second day in a row on Thursday, with most of the 728 new infections coming from crowded dormitories for migrant laborers.

The sharp rise was a stark demonstration of the risks faced by low-wage migrants who have built the modern city-state, bringing focus to their poor living conditions. More than 1,050 cases were linked to the residences on Wednesday and Thursday, causing the government to vow changes in how the migrants, many from India and Bangladesh, are treated.

While Singapore has been praised for its rigorous contact-tracing program, which quickly identified clusters of local transmissions, the coronavirus spread rapidly through dormitories for foreign laborers, where up to 20 people are crammed in each room with shared kitchens and bathrooms.

The Ministry of Health on Thursday said the surge in new infections among migrant workers was in line with its “continued efforts to actively test and isolate the infected workers.”

After weeks of low transmission numbers, Singapore began recording a rapid rise in cases in March, as travelers from Europe and the United States brought the virus with them. By Thursday, the health ministry said it has not registered any imported cases for a week.

A late-night Twitter post by the United States ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, on Thursday trumpeted $5 million being provided “for Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate, lifesaving needs in combating Covid-19.”

It seemed, at first blush, like a possible reversal in the Trump administration’s longstanding policy of cutting off the spigot of cash to the Palestinians.

Since Mr. Trump took office, the U.S. has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly aid to the United Nations aid agency for Palestinian refugees, sharply cut funding to the Palestinian Authority and killed a $25 million yearly grant to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network.

But any suggestion that the administration’s stance toward the Palestinians could be thawing would be a misreading.

Palestinian officials said that their policy of having no contact with the Trump administration remained in force and that they expected the money would be doled out through nongovernmental organizations the Trump administration has not assailed. And a United States Embassy official said the aid would not “prejudge future decisions” about American assistance in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Trump administration provided no detail on where exactly the money would end up or how, other than that it would be spent on the West Bank, not Gaza.

And the aid announced Thursday is also considerably less than the $75 million congressional leaders agreed in December to allocate for civilian and humanitarian programs and institutions not linked to the Palestinian Authority.

Walid Nammour, chief executive of the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, which has been racing to build wards and acquire ventilators to treat a surge of coronavirus patients, said the $5 million amount was so paltry as to be “humiliating.”

“This is really lip service,” he said.

“We’ve missed $75 million over the past three years,” Mr. Nammour added, citing the annual American aid the hospitals network received from 2012 until Mr. Trump took office. “This is too little, too late.”

Trying to tell the tale of revival in China, but censorship and paranoia step in.

Once again, we were being followed.

The police officer broke up our interview with a construction worker. Then he scared off a shop worker who was opening up about the city’s strict lockdown.

Finally he went undercover. He pulled off his police jacket and skulked behind us through a mall in a black long-sleeved shirt.

As a tail, he was cartoonishly obvious. But it didn’t matter. Each time my colleague and I tried to talk to someone, he found a way to scare the person off. For all the anti-foreign propaganda, intimidation and censorship in China, regular people are often willing to share their experiences. The man was there to make sure they didn’t.

We had come to Hefei, a middle-class city in central China, to chronicle the country’s emergence from its devastating battle against the coronavirus.

Hefei, we thought, would give us stories of joy and relief, as well as of the anxieties and wrinkles of returning to everyday life.

Our undercover friend told us a different story. He showed us, once again, how the authorities stop at nothing to control the narrative coming out of China. His creeping presence was also a painful reminder that this trip would be my last in China for a while. At the end of the week, I had to leave the country, a part of an expulsion of the majority of reporters for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

The police officer blocked a tale of renewal. Signs of life in Hefei were everywhere.

Just as tensions are rising between President Trump and the United Nations over his suspension of funding to the World Health Organization for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, his administration is under criticism from another corner of the U.N.’s network of agencies disliked by the administration, the Human Rights Council.

Philip Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, said Thursday that the United States’ coronavirus response had neglected the most disadvantaged in the world’s richest country.

“Low-income and poor people face far higher risks from the coronavirus due to chronic neglect and discrimination, and a muddled, corporate-driven, federal response has failed them,” Mr. Alston said.

In a statement that reflected what other advocates for poor and minority populations in the United States have been saying, Mr. Alston argued that the coronavirus has especially victimized people with the weakest safety net.

“People in poverty are disproportionately threatened by the coronavirus,” Mr. Alston said. “They are more likely to work in jobs with a high risk of exposure, live in crowded and insecure housing, reside in neighborhoods that are more vulnerable because of air pollution, and lack access to health care.”

There was no immediate Trump administration response to the statement by Mr. Alston, a New York University professor who has aroused its anger before. He was the author of a 2017 study of endemic poverty in the United States, and has criticized what he has called the administration’s “contempt for the poor.” Mr. Alston also angered the Conservative-led government in Britain two years ago with a report that concluded its austerity measures had inflicted deep pain on the working poor there.

Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the Human Rights Council in 2018 over what the American ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Nikki R. Haley, called the council’s brazen bias against Israel and failure to hold rights abusing members to account.

Reporting was contributed by Paul Mozur, Rick Gladstone, David Halbfinger, Elaine Yu, Keith Bradsher and Ernesto Londoño.




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