Protesters have taken to the streets across Brazil once more to demand far-right President Jair Bolsonaro step down over his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well as recent corruption allegations.
Demonstrators marched in Rio de Janeiro and several other cities nationwide on Saturday in the latest display of public anger and frustration to hit the South American nation in recent weeks.
“They’re protesting about many things: the government’s downplaying of the pandemic, the president’s spurning of health safety measures, the slow rollout of vaccines, which has picked up in the last couple of weeks,” Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew reported from Rio.
“But still Brazil was a country that should not have had these problems because it is a country that is usually prepared for mass vaccination.”
Protest organisers said actions were scheduled to take place in 500 locations across Brazil and outside the country, the Folha de S Paulo newspaper reported. The demonstrators complained about Brazil’s late-starting vaccination programme and high unemployment rate, and demanded more emergency aid for poor people grappling with the pandemic.
“I’m here because it is time to react to the genocidal government that we have, that has taken over our country,” said Marcos Kirst, a protester in Sao Paulo.
“It is very important that everyone who feels offended or oppressed by this government comes out to the streets, because we need to fight for the return to democracy,” Laise de Oliveira, a 65-year-old social worker, told the AFP news agency in Rio de Janeiro.
Bolsonaro, a coronavirus sceptic who has repeatedly played down the severity of COVID-19, for months has rejected calls to impose public health restrictions to stem the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 548,000 people across Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
That is the second-highest death toll in the world after the United States.
A protester holds a banner that reads ‘Vaccine’ and ‘Impeachment’ during a demonstration against Boslonaro in Rio de Janeiro [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]
A Brazilian Senate commission in April launched an investigation into the government’s handling of the crisis, while Bolsonaro has seen his popularity drop amid a string of scandals. A recent poll showed a majority of Brazilians would support an effort to impeach him.
The far-right leader is under political pressure after questions surfaced about alleged irregularities in his government’s coronavirus vaccine procurement process, as well as accusations of past corruption. Bolsonaro has denied the allegations.
“What we have is a continuous loss of political support for the president,” Claudio Couto, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Brazil, told Al Jazeera. Couto said while political will to impeach Bolsonaro is rising, the president retains considerable support in Congress.
“Since it is necessary two obtain at least two-thirds of the votes both in the House and at the Senate – (and) Bolsonaro has at least 40 percent of the seats both in the House and the Senate – it’s impossible today,” Couto said.
Meanwhile, as the number of coronavirus deaths begins to recede and local restrictions are being rolled back in some places, experts have questioned whether Brazil’s inoculation effort can pick up enough steam to stave off the spread of more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
The Delta variant is boosting cases and deaths globally after a period of decline, and the World Health Organization anticipates it will become dominant within months.
“It will be explosive,” Gonzalo Vecina, a professor of public health at the University of Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press news agency. “There will be a new wave. We are opening too much.”
Brazil’s Health Ministry counted 140 cases of the Delta variant by Friday, including in its three most populous states, and 12 deaths. Analysts say the figures are vast undercounts due to lack of testing and genome sequencing.
Delta has been detected in at least 18 Latin American countries, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said last week that getting more of the population vaccinated is the best way to stop the variant, but he insists that Brazil must resume its economic activities.
“We have available hospital bed capacity and we will live with this pandemic until we can control it definitively,” Queiroga said on Wednesday, stressing the importance of knowing whether each person infected with the variant has already had one shot or two.
To date, 17 percent of the Brazilian population is considered fully vaccinated while 44 percent have received the first of two jabs. The AstraZeneca shot makes up nearly half of all vaccines administered, China’s Sinovac more than a third, and Pfizer most of the rest.