Resigned, fired: Health officials in other countries leave posts during pandemic

Jodesz Gavilan
Resigned, fired: Health officials in other countries leave posts during pandemic
(UPDATED) A health minister goes out for a walk at the beach despite lockdown restrictions. Another collapses during a session with parliament. Who else are stepping down in the face of the pandemic?

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has been called upon to resign from his post over his handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines.

At least 14 senators on Thursday, April 16, joined calls on the ground and co-authored a Senate resolution asking for Duque’s resignation for “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, and inefficiency in performance.”

Among Duque’s missteps are falsely claiming that the Philippines had a relatively “low” number of cases even if it has been lagging behind other nations when it comes to testing for the virus.

But he is not the only health chief facing criticism over response to the coronavirus pandemic that has infected millions globally. 

Other countries’ health department officials have also been on the receiving end of a massive backlash. In some cases, these had led to their resignation or firing. 

Who are these officials and where are they from? Rappler collates the circumstances behind the controversies for each of them.  

BEFORE. Peru's Minister of Health Elizabeth Hinostroza (L) during a press conference on the measures and actions against the spread of the coronavirus on March 11, 2020. Photo from Peruvian Presidency/AFP

Elizabeth Hinostroza
Former health minister of Peru
Replaced after President says situation is best handled by “public health specialist”

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra on March 20 removed Elizabeth Hinostroza from her post as health minister of Peru on March 20, 2020.  

In a press conference, Vizcarra said the decision comes after a realization that the coronavirus situation is best handled by a public health specialist with more experience.

“We appreciate the professionalism shown by Minister Hinostroza while she was in charge of the Ministry of Health, but we have seen fit to make a change for another professional expert in public health,” he said.

Hinostroza only served a little over 5 months, since November 18, 2019. Prior to being the minister of health, Hinostroza worked at the health service arm of the Peruvian National Police.

She was replaced by Victor Mesia, a physician specializing in public health. He held several positions at the Ministry of Health and closely worked with several civil society organizations in dealing with social welfare issues and health.

On Twitter, Hinostroza thanked Vizcarra for giving her the opportunity to work as health minister and wished her successor and other health officials the best of luck in dealing with the pandemic.

As of Thursday, April 16, Peru has 10,303 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 230 deaths.

SORRY. Former chief medical officer for Scotland Catherine Calderwood attends a briefing on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by AFP

Catherine Calderwood
Former chief medical officer of Scotland
Resigned after getting caught twice leaving her home unnecessarily

Catherine Calderwood resigned from her post as chief medical officer of Scotland on April 5 after being criticized, even reprimanded by the police, for defying her own office’s advice about staying home amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

She was found to have traveled at least two times with her family from her home in Edinburgh to another family home 70 kilometers away. 

On Twitter, the Scotland Police released a statement after issuing a formal warning to Calderwood, stating that “legal instructions on not leaving your home without a reasonable excuse apply to everyone.”

Calderwood apologized but initially said she will remain in her position where she will “continue to focus entirely on that job.”

But just a few hours later, she released another statement announcing her resignation after conferring with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

“The most important thing to me now and over the next few, very difficult months is that people across Scotland know what they need to do to reduce the spread of this virus and that means they must have complete trust in those who give them advice,” Calderwood said.  

Scotland, as of April 15, has 6,748 coronavirus cases with 699 deaths. 

REASONS. Victor Costache resigns from his post for personal and professional reasons. Photo from his FB page

Victor Costache
Former health minister of Romania
Resigned on March 26, 2020 as number of doctors and nurses infected with virus rises 

Victor Costache resigned on March 26, 2020, according to Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban who said the resignation was due to “personal and professional reasons.”

“We made a good team and we took together a set of important decisions with a beneficial effect on the healthcare system,” he said. “I regret the Minister’s resignation but I also understand it and I thank him for our good collaboration.”

Local media reports, however, alleged that Costache was asked to resign over his handling of the crisis and the rising number of infections among health professionals during the first few weeks of the pandemic. 

Costache had been part of the Cabinet for 5 months before his resignation. 

Romania has 6,879 confirmed cases of the virus with 344 deaths as of April 16.

SAFE FOR NOW. New Zealand Health Minister David Clark remains in his job after being criticized for breaching protocol amid the coronavirus outbreak. Photo from Labour website

David Clark
Health Minister of New Zealand
Demoted in Cabinet rankings after going out for a walk at the beach

David Clark was pushed to the bottom of Cabinet rankings in New Zealand after breaching protocols as New Zealand was placed under Alert Level 4 lockdown. 

In a statement, Clark admitted driving his family for 20 kilometers to a beach. He called himself an “idiot” for not following rules as health minister.

“At a time when we are asking New Zealanders to make historic sacrifices I’ve let the team down,” he said. “I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she would’ve fired Clark “under normal conditions. But she rejected Clark’s offer to resign to prevent a “massive disruption in the health sector.”

She, however, stripped Clark of his role as associate finance minister and instead placed him at the bottom of Cabinet rankings. 

“What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses,” Ardern said. “I expect better, and so does New Zealand.”

As of April 16, New Zealand has 1,084 confirmed cases with 9 deaths.

NOT OKAY. Reports say several government officials are not satisfied with the performance of then Puerto Rico health minister Rafael Rodriguez. Photo from Congressional Office of Jennifer Gonzales-Colon

Rafael Rodriguez
Former health minister of Puerto Rico
Resigned following dissatisfaction over his handling of initial cases 

Rafael Rodriguez resigned from his post as health minister of Puerto Rico after he was criticized for the underwhelming response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Governor Wanda Vazquez accepted his resignation, citing “dissatisfaction” over his leadership.

“I have learned that there has been a great dissatisfaction in relation to the last incidents of the last days, dissatisfaction that I have also felt,” she was quoted as saying by local media. 

Vazquez placed Health Undersectary Concepcion de Longo as interim health minister. 

Puerto Rico, as of April 16, has 974 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 51 deaths.

GAP. Former Ecuador health minister Catalina Andramuño alleges in a letter that there is a gap between what the government wants to do and what needs to be done. Photo from Andramuño's Twitter account

Catalina Andramuño
Former health minister of Ecuador
Resigned over alleged differences with rest of government 

Ecuador health minister Catalina Andramuño resigned after only 9 months due to alleged lack of action from the government on the novel coronavirus outbreak.  

In her resignation letter quoted by CNN Chile, Andramuño said that “during the COVID-19 crisis, the technical and medical postulates to deal with it did not find an echo in many instances of the government.”

She also hit other government officials who insist on policies despite having “no knowledge of public health and the reality of this situation.” 

There are 7,858 confirmed cases of the virus in Ecuador, with 388 deaths, as of April 16.  

REST. Dutch Minister Bruno Bruins resigns from his post after collapsing during a parliament session. Photo by Phil Nijhuis/ANP/AFP

Bruno Bruins
Former medical care minister of the Netherlands
Resigned after collapsing before parliament 

Bruno Bruins tendered his resignation from being the long-time medical care minister of the Netherlands on March 19, after collapsing the day before while engaging with parliament on the coronavirus pandemic.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Bruins resigned because he wasn’t sure when he will recover. 

“The nature of the crisis is such that it demands a minister who can be ready to go full throttle immediately,” Rutte was quoted by Reuters.

Bruins, who was first appointed in 2017, thanked his well wishers and said he will be taking a rest for now. 

“I wish all hard workers in the Netherlands a lot of strength,” he said on Twitter. “Only together will we work out the Corona crisis out of the country.”

As of April 16, the Netherlands has recorded 27,419 confirmed cases of the virus, with 2,945 deaths.  

Wanderson de Oliveira 
Former health secretary of Brazil
Resigned over rising tensions with President Jair Bolsonaro

Wanderson de Oliveira tendered his resignation as Brazil’s health secretary on April 15.

According to reports, his resignation came as tensions between then Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta and Bolsonaro escalated over the President’s mishandling of the coronavirus response. In Brazil’s setup, the health secretary is under the health minister.

As of April 16, Brazil has 25,262 confirmed cases of the virus, with 1,532 deaths.

CLASHES. Luiz Henrique Mandetta is fired from his post as health minister by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo by Evaristo Sa/AFP

Luiz Henrique Mandetta
Former health minister of Brazil
Fired by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after weeks of clashes over coronavirus response

Luiz Henrique Mandetta was fired from his post as health minister of Brazil after weeks of arguments and clashes with President Jair Bolsonaro over the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Mandetta’s sacking came after his health secretary resigned. He allegedly told his colleagues that he expected to be fired by Bolsonaro soon.

Communities criticized the move, given that Mandetta has become the sober voice providing guidance to many Brazilians, in contrast to Bolsonaro’s downplaying of this pandemic. – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.