Brazil's top court orders government to set date for COVID-19 vaccination plan

FILE PHOTO: A nurse carries out a swab test on a patient as part of the new measures of Rio de Janeiro's government against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sao Goncalo, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s Supreme Court on Sunday gave the country’s health minister 48 hours to fix the starting date for a national vaccination program to fight the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of coronavirus.

A member of the court, Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, ordered Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello to tell the country when the plan to vaccinate against COVID-19 announced on Saturday will be launched, the court said in a statement.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government has been criticized by state governors and public health experts for being unprepared to deal with the pandemic and coming up with a hastily put together and deficient plan.

The plan sets an initial goal of vaccinating 51 million people, or one-fourth of the population, in the first half of 2021, giving priority to the most vulnerable such as health workers, elderly people and indigenous communities.

But it does not say when it will go into effect. The court had given the ministry a deadline to announce a plan.

The ministry said in response to a request for comment that it is waiting to be formally informed by the court.

Brazil reported on Sunday 21,825 additional confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 279 deaths from COVID-19.

The South American country has now registered 6,901,952 cases since the pandemic began, while its official death toll has risen to 181,402, the second highest after the United States, according to ministry data.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Sabrina Valle; Editing by Daniel Wallis