Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has said he did not want to be “bored” with questions about the country’s coronavirus death toll, just days after Brazil became the second country in the world to surpass 600,000 fatalities.
Bolsonaro – a COVID-19 sceptic who has downplayed the severity of the virus – was surrounded by supporters at the beach in Guaruja, in Sao Paulo state, on Monday when a journalist asked him about the death toll.
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“In which country did people not die? Tell me!” he responded. “Look, I didn’t come here to be bored.”
Brazil surpassed 600,000 coronavirus deaths on Friday, the country’s health ministry announced, spurring more public anger against Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
For months, the president has rejected calls to impose restrictions such as lockdowns to stem the spread of the virus, while public health officials have slammed his government for failing to quickly secure COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, Bolsonaro claimed that COVID-19 protocols at soccer matches had prevented him from attending a Brazilian championship football match in the city of Santos.
“Why a vaccine passport? I wanted to watch Santos now and they said I needed to be vaccinated. Why should that be?” Bolsonaro told journalists. Santos said Bolsonaro had not asked to attend the match, however.
Authorities this week allowed clubs to fill 30 percent of available seats in Brazilian championship games, but the protocol agreed to by the Brazilian soccer confederation says all people inside stadiums must be vaccinated and recently tested.
Meanwhile, a Brazilian Senate committee that in April launched an investigation into Bolsonaro’s pandemic policies is expected to release a final report in the coming weeks.
That could heap more pressure on the president ahead of elections scheduled for next year.
While Brazil’s former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has not formally announced he will run, polls show Lula would easily defeat Bolsonaro.
On Friday, Brazilian non-profit Rio de Paz hung 600 white scarves on Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana beach in honour of all those who died during the pandemic.
“The president discouraged sanitary standards, challenged mask use, condemned social distancing, was against mass vaccination – because of that we have these bitter numbers,” said the group’s president, Antonio Costa.
“These are thousands of grieving families,” he said, referring to the scarves dotting the beach. “One day, we’ll know how many of those have died, lost their lives, because they heard the denying speech of some of our main public authorities.”