RIO DE JANEIRO – Supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro demonstrated on Sunday across Brazil against the restrictive measures imposed by the regional governments to arrest the worsening COVID-19 crisis in the second-worst affected country by the coronavirus pandemic.
Protesters took to streets in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Belo Horizonte after announcements on social networks by pro-Bolsonaro groups for demonstrations.
The most crowded demonstration was at Sao Paulo, the largest city, which brought together about a thousand people and a vehicle caravan.
The participants, mostly wearing colors of the Brazilian flag and without masks, protested against the social distancing measures in some regions to stop the virus spread.
The new restrictions came as Brazil battles the worst phase so far due to the pandemic.
The regional governments of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia, among many others, imposed new measures such as night curfews and a ban on crowded events amid a strain on the health system, which is on the brink of collapse due to the lack of intensive care units.
President Bolsonaro, leader of the Brazilian far-right, has torpedoed social distancing measures, claiming he was defending the livelihoods of Brazilian workers.
He has also defended the use of anti-COVID drugs without medical verification and questioned the efficacy and safety of vaccines.
On Sunday, some protesters defended a military intervention in Brazil that would expand Bolsonaro’s powers.
The protesters also shouted slogans against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro’s main political rival.
Lula returned to the Brazilian political arena after the Supreme Court overturned two corruption convictions against him, opening the door for him to contest the 2022 presidential election.
He has been one of the most vocal critics of Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
In Sao Paulo, protesters also demanded the resignation of Governor Joao Doria, also a Bolsonaro critic and possible presidential candidate.
Doria declared last week the “red phase,” the most restrictive of the Sao Paulo anti-COVID plan that allows only the functioning of essential services, such as pharmacies and supermarkets.
In Rio de Janeiro, protesters marched along the avenue around the famous Copacabana beach to protest against the restrictive measures that threaten businesses.
In Brasilia, protesters drove a caravan of vehicles through the Esplanade of Ministries that houses Brazil’s most important federal government buildings.
In Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, the second-most populous state in Brazil after Sao Paulo, protesters remained in their vehicles and protested in a caravan that started from the Plaza del Papa and ended in the center of the city.
Brazil registered nearly 2,000 deaths from the disease on Saturday, bringing the average number of fatalities in the last week to over 1,800 a day for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
According to the health ministry, the disease has claimed more than 278,000 lives and infected 11.5 million people in Brazil, making it the second-worst affected country after the United States.
The high average of daily infections and deaths confirms that Brazil is currently suffering a second pandemic wave, more virulent and lethal than the first.
It was partly caused by the circulation of new mutants of the virus, including the Brazilian variant that originated in the Amazon and that, according to researchers, is three times more contagious than the original.
The worsening health crisis has triggered demands for the resignation of Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello.
There were rumors on Sunday that he may have already stepped down.
However, a statement from the ministry denied it, saying Pazuello continued to lead the health department with his commitment to confront the pandemic.
Rumors about Pazuello’s resignation flew thick and fast on Sunday after Bolsonaro met with cardiologist Ludmila Hajjar, who is seen by leaders of some pro-government parties as a possible candidate to head the health ministry.