Thousands took to the streets across Brazil on Saturday to protest against President Jair Bolsonaro’s pandemic response, blasting the leader for not acquiring vaccines fast enough and for questioning the need for mask-wearing.
Brazil has registered 500,800 deaths from 17,883,750 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to health ministry data on Saturday, the worst official death toll outside the United States. Over the past week, Brazil has averaged 2,000 deaths per day.
“500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic that affects our Brazil and the world,” Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga tweeted.
“I am working tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians in the shortest time possible and change this scenario that has plagued us for over a year,”
The government faces fierce criticism for passing up earlier opportunities to buy vaccines. Pharmaceutical maker Pfizer said it got no response to early offers to sell vaccines to the government between August and November last year.
“We are protesting against the genocidal Bolsonaro government that did not buy vaccines and has done nothing to take care of its people in the last year,” said 36-year-old Aline Rabelo, while protesting on the national mall in Brasilia.
Bolsonaro’s press office did not immediately respond to request for comment. Only 11 per cent of Brazilians are fully vaccinated and 29 per cent have received a first dose, Health Ministry data shows.
Brazil’s largest broadcaster Globo reported that by early afternoon, protests had been held in at least 44 cities in 20 states.
Demonstrators widely alleged that the death toll was a form of genocide carried out by the government on the Brazilian people, holding up signs demanding Mr Bolsonaro be removed from office while chanting and beating drums.
While organisers promised the largest demonstrations yet in more than 300 cities, gatherings in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia on Saturday morning did not appear to be larger than the last major protests on 29 May.
Protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, were scheduled to begin in the afternoon.
A special Senate committee is probing the Bolsonaro administration’s pandemic response, highlighting the government’s delayed efforts to acquire vaccines while prioritising unproven treatments for COVID-19.
With additional reporting by AFP.