Brazil's Bolsonaro says health minister swap takes effect on Friday

FILE PHOTO: Brazilian cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga, who was named by Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro as the country's fourth Health Minister since the coronavirus pandemic began, wears a protective mask, at the Health Ministry headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday that the replacement of his health minister will take effect on Friday with publication in the official gazette, as the country had its second-worst day of deaths caused by COVID-19.

Bolsonaro, who is under pressure from the worsening pandemic, defended his opposition to lockdowns on a social media webcast.

He said his government has asked the Supreme Court to stop what he termed “abuses” by governors in locking down economic activity, and sent a bill to Congress that would define as essential activities “anything that puts bread on the table.”

On Monday, he named cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga to replace Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, a three-star army general who has come under fire for toeing the president’s policies and failing to deliver timely supplies of vaccines to a country fast becoming the world epicenter of the coronavirus.

Pazuello’s job was on the line after a week that saw record COVID-19 fatalities in Brazil. More than 287,000 Brazilians have died so far in the outbreak that killed more people in Brazil than any other nation last week.

Brazil had its second deadliest day in its COVID outbreak on Thursday, with 2,724 deaths, two days after reporting a record 2,841, according to the Health Ministry.

Bolsonaro said he was not “obsessed” with being president or running for re-election next year.

Polls this week showed that most Brazilians do not approve of his handling of the pandemic and former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would beat him if the 2022 presidential elections were held today.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sam Holmes