Why are Brazilians staging protests against President Bolsonaro's Covid Response?

Brazil has the third-highest number of total confirmed COVID-19 cases and second-highest Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began.
Why are Brazilians staging protests against President Bolsonaro's Covid Response?
View of flags depicting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as a devil are displayed for sale during a protest against his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on May 29, 2021.AFP

Ten of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Brazil last weekend to protest against President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and demanded that Bolsonaro be impeached. The far-right leader has been in the eye of the storm for quite some time now. He has been widely criticised for downplaying the risks of the Coronavirus, poor vaccination drive and opposing lockdown measures.

On Saturday, ‘Anti-Bolsonaro’ demonstrations took place in major cities of Brazil. In the capital town of Brasilia, protestors gathered in front of the Congress, where a senate commission is investigating Bolsonaro's handling of the health crisis, and called for the impeachment of Bolsonaro. While in Rio de Janeiro, protestors took out a street march chanting “Bolsonaro Genocide” and “Go Away Bolsovirus”, Recife saw police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the protestors to disperse the crowd.

People shout slogans during a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Praca da Liberdade in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on May 29, 2021
People shout slogans during a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Praca da Liberdade in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on May 29, 2021AFP

President Jair Bolsonaro is facing the biggest crisis since he took office. While Brazil is not the only country in the world struggling to vaccinate its population, the recent outpouring of anger is against Bolsonaro’s refusal to accept the COVID-19 crisis and no efforts to control the surge of the virus in the country.

People take part in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 29, 2021.
People take part in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 29, 2021.AFP

Brazil’s COVID-19 situation

Brazil has the third-highest number of total confirmed COVID-19 cases and second-highest Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began. Only the United States has more COVID-19-releated deaths than Brazil.

On Sunday, May 30, Brazil registered 43,520 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, reaching a total of 16.5 million cases. Though the current wave has eased somewhat since April, Brazil was still reporting more than 2000 deaths daily till last week. Nearly 461, 931 people have died so far.

On the vaccine front, Brazil has administered over 66 million doses of vaccines till May 29. The percentage of vaccinations per 100 people also stands at just 31.7 per cent, according to the Financial Times COVID-19 vaccine tracker.

Brazil is known for executing vaccination at a high speed. The South American country vaccinated more than 70 million people against the H1N1 virus in just three months. However, this time around Brazil’s vaccination campaign has run into snags due to shortage, supply delays and poor planning. The country is relying on AstraZeneca, Chinese manufactured CoronaVac and Pfizer.

President Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 response

As Brazil has become one of the worst-hit countries by the COVID-19 pandemic, the severity of the crisis in the South American nation has been attributed to President Bolsonaro conduct and planning throughout the pandemic.

The situation is being blamed on his leadership and the crisis is so severe that a Brazilian Senate commission is conducting an investigation into his government’s Coronavirus policies, including whether it failed to secure COVID-19 vaccines, touted unproven drugs, and pressured local leaders who sought to impose health restrictions.

A demonstrator holds a banner reading Bolsonaro out, referring to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a protest against his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Brasilia, on May 29, 2021.
A demonstrator holds a banner reading Bolsonaro out, referring to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a protest against his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Brasilia, on May 29, 2021.AFP

Apart from describing Covid as “just a little flu” to jokingly saying that Pfizer jab may “turn people into crocodiles”, he has also consistently opposed lockdown measures, arguing that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the coronavirus itself. At the same, he has also actively encouraged his supporters not to wear masks or practice physical distancing.

The head of Brazil's prestigious Butantan Institute told Senate committee that President Bolsonaro's actions delayed the start of the vaccination programme, reported the Spanish news agency Efe on Thursday. He is facing criticism for failing to secure more vaccines including his government’s decision to turn down an offer from Pfizer to purchase up to 70 million doses of its vaccine. Although the government has recently ordered 100 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine, the bulk of these will not arrive until the second half of the year.

People take part in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on May 29, 2021.
People take part in a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on May 29, 2021.AFP

In a poll conducted in mid-March, 54% of respondents said Bolsonaro's management of the Covid crisis was "bad" or "very bad", up from 48% in January, reported BBC.

With thousands of people taking to the streets to protests calling for Bolsonaro’s impeachment, he is finally facing the heat over the mismanagement of COVID-19 pandemic. As the number of cases counties rise in the South American country and vaccination efforts appear to go nowhere, the president will find it hard to stay in power in the coming months.

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