Brazil’s coronavirus death toll has now exceeded 500,000 – thousands have taken to the streets to demand the president’s resignation.
Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of failing to acquire the vaccines quickly enough, prioritizing unproven treatments for COVID-19 and questioning whether mask wear is necessary.
2,301 more deaths have been confirmed in the past 24 hours, and experts fear the outbreak – already the second deadliest in the world – could worsen due to government failures.
In downtown Rio de Janeiro, demonstrators held up placards with slogans such as “500,000 dead, it’s his fault.”
Another said: “Take out Bolsonaro. Government of hunger and unemployment.”
According to local media, protests took place in at least 44 cities.
The latest data suggests that only 11% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with 29% of the population having received the first dose of a vaccine.
Pfizer said it offered its vaccines to Brazilian authorities between August and November last year, but it is claimed the government has missed opportunities to purchase them.
A protester said: “We are protesting against the genocidal Bolsonaro government which did not buy vaccines and did nothing to take care of its people last year.”
A 20-year-old student who joined the protest in Rio added: “Brazil is having a big setback. The country was an exemplary country for vaccination in the world. We have widely recognized institutions, but today we are in a sad situation. “
Epidemiologists warn that with the onset of winter in the southern hemisphere and the circulation of new variants of the coronavirus, deaths will continue to rise even as vaccinations gain momentum.
Gonzalo Vecina, former head of Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, said: “I think we’re going to reach 700,000 or 800,000 deaths before we see the effects of the vaccination.
“We are experiencing the arrival of these new variants and the Indian variant will send us a loop.”
Raphael Guimaraes, researcher in a biomedical center, fears that the number of deaths will return to the average of 3,000 deaths per day observed in March and April.
He said: “We are still in an extremely critical situation, with very high transmission rates and hospital bed occupancy which is still critical in many places.”
Brazil has recorded nearly 100,000 new infections per day, overtaking India for the highest number in the world.
Last month, a poll suggested that Mr Bolsonaro’s popularity had fallen to new lows – with just 24% of Brazilians saying his administration was “good” or “excellent.”
The same poll indicated that his left-wing rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, would win in the second round if the 2022 elections were held today.