Thousands of people are protesting President Jair Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic as Brazil’s COVID death toll, the second highest in the world, exceeds 500,000.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets across Brazil to protest President Jair Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic, blaming the leader for not acquiring vaccines quickly enough and questioning the need to wear a mask.
The protests came as Brazil’s Minister of Health announced that the country had surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19, the highest death toll in the world after the United States.
“I am working tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians as soon as possible and change this scenario which has plagued us for more than a year,” Marcelo Queiroga said on Twitter.
Brazil records more than 70,000 confirmed coronavirus infections every day. Some 11% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated and 29% have received a first dose, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
The government has faced strong criticism for missing out on previous opportunities to purchase vaccines. Pharmaceutical maker Pfizer said it received no response to the government’s first offers to sell vaccines between August and November last year.
“We are protesting against the genocidal government of Bolsonaro which did not buy vaccines and did nothing to take care of its population last year,” Aline Rabelo, 36, said during a demonstration in the Brasilia national shopping center.
Bolsonaro’s press service did not immediately comment.
Brazil’s largest broadcaster Globo reported that by early afternoon protests took place in at least 44 cities in 20 states. Protesters held up placards demanding that Bolsonaro be removed from office while chanting and beating drums.
While organizers have promised the biggest protests to date in more than 300 cities, the rallies in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia on Saturday morning did not appear to be bigger than the last big protests on May 29.
Protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, were due to start in the afternoon.
A special Senate committee is investigating the Bolsonaro administration’s response to the pandemic, highlighting the government’s late efforts to acquire vaccines while prioritizing unproven treatments for COVID-19.