The demonstration of support for the far-right Brazilian president comes as Jair Bolsonaro faces a Senate investigation into the handling of the pandemic.
Thousands of people have gathered across Brazil to support far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, whose handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely criticized amid a continuing spike in deaths and infections.
Protesters gathered in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the capital, Brasilia, where thousands gathered on the ministries plaza as Bolsonaro briefly flew overhead in a helicopter.
“This is a critical moment and Bolsonaro needs the support of the people,” Edvaldo de Paulo, a protester who appeared to be in his sixties, told AFP news agency in Brasilia.
Bolsonaro has continued to downplay the severity of COVID-19, dismissing it as a “little flu” earlier in the pandemic, and he rejects public health measures such as lockdowns, despite the persistent coronavirus crisis in Brazil.
The South American nation exceeded 400,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 on Friday – the second highest total in the world after the United States – and it has recorded more than 14.6 million infections to date, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
More than half of those deaths were recorded in 2021 alone, when April was the deadliest month since the virus began to spread in Brazil last year.
Experts said new, more easily transmitted variants of the coronavirus had contributed to its spread, while many accused Bolsonaro of failing to take action to contain COVID-19.
Bolsonaro, however, rejected any criticism, saying last week that his government “would not agree to this policy of staying home and shutting everything down.”
The Brazilian government has also been criticized for failing to secure and promptly distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
The country’s regulator gave the green light to two COVID-19 vaccines – AstraZeneca and Coronavac – in January and also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson injections, which have yet to arrive.
Last week, the developers of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V criticized Brazil for refusing to import the vaccine, saying the decision was politically motivated.
Meanwhile, poor and marginalized communities across the country continue to bear the brunt of the virus as millions of people are also hungry in the midst of the crisis.