Building over May 2021, tens of thousands of people in hundreds of cities in Brazil have taken to the streets protesting the Brazilian State’s handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The protesters are a coalition of labor unions and student movements. They are demand that the vaccination program is accelerated. They also demand a return to $115 work emergency aid, against the current $30-50 aid. Protesters have also been demanding the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro. Protests have been mostly peaceful, but police have been reported to have used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
The COVID-19 Situation in Brazil
Brazil has had one of the highest death tolls due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Nearly 16 million people have contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic began and nearly 5 lakh people have died. Brazil ranks second only to the United States in reported deaths by Covid-19, ahead of India. The first wave of the pandemic went from March 2020 to October 2020, where nearly 1,50,000 people were reported to have died due to Covid-19. In the first wave alone, the death toll was unbearable. There have been reports of mass graves being dug in in indigenous areas as digging individual graves was not feasible.
New Wave, New Variants
The second wave began in October 2020 and seems to have peaked in March. The second wave is not yet over, but already over 3,00,000 people have died.
Shocking the world, Brazil’s second wave resulted in a new strain of the Coronavirus, the P.1 variant. P.1 was identified in December 2020. The P.1 variant is nearly twice as transmissible as the earlier variant, and transmission comes with a higher viral load. The P.1 variant has been observed to pose higher risks to the younger population.
As of 2 June 2021, about 11% of the Brazilian population have been fully vaccinated, nearly double that of the beginning of May 2021. 21% of the population has been partially vaccinated by the beginning of June.
Jair Bolsonaro became President of Brazil in January 2019. He has always been a polarizing figure, winning on a slim margin. At the beginning of 2020, a former justice minister, Sergio Moro resigned and accused Bolsonaro of pressuring him to replace the federal police chief with a close family friend. Other stories of Bolsonaro supporters using criminal intimidation began to surface. His political opponents banded together under the banner of Movimento Estamos Juntos (We are together movement) aiming to impeach Bolsonaro. With the Covid pandemic, his opponents withdrew, insisting that managing the pandemic should take priority.
Bolsonaro has become infamous for his mishandling of the pandemic. Early into the pandemic, he insisted that the virus was no more than the common flu, and he wanted to prioritize the economy of Brazil. He continued to hold rallies and told his followers to ignore warnings of the virus as a sign of strength and as a testament to their faith in Brazil.
In June 2020, Bolsonaro tested positive for Covid-19. Despite this, he stated that he would not make vaccination mandatory, and he would not take a vaccine when available. He insisted that hydroxychloroquine could cure Covid-19. He continued to hold rallies into the second wave, where he would openly tell people that they do not need to wear masks. He has not worn a mask at his rallies.
In January 2021, as the Covid-19 number began to rise and news of the P.1 variant came to light, calls for Bolsonaro’s impeachment began to grow again. By February, large caravans and protests calling for a return of emergency aid and the acceleration of the vaccination program.
As cases rose, the economy also began to fall. Homelessness was on the rise, and poverty rates tripled. Bolsonaro kept insisting that he wanted Brazilians to brave out the pandemic, though low employment rates meant that people had to keep going out in search of work. As the P.1 variant has a higher transmission rate and affects a younger population, it meant that most people had no way to protect themselves from the virus.
As anti-Bolsonaro protests began to take shape, the state had used various tactics to intimidate dissenting voices, including criminal charges against protesters and journalists and increased policing.
In April, in many areas, lock-downs were imposed to control spread. In response, pro-Bolsonaro caravans protested the measures taken by the state to prevent spread. They insisted on a more centralized structure, and more emphasis is given to the Brazilian economy and less to be given to control the spread of Covid-19. As numbers grew, these protests began to die down, and anti-Bolsonaro protests began to grow.
From the beginning of May 2021, nationwide protests began to take shape. They interrupted traffic across the country. Many Brazilians have banged pots and plates from their homes as a show of disapproval.
Polls have indicated that Bolsonaro might be losing critical support, leading to rising support for the left-wing opposition parties.