Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has been slapped with a fine by the authorities of Sao Paulo state for flouting a requirement to wear a mask during a thousands-strong rally of his supporters.
Bolsonaro, along with three ministers and six deputies, will have to pay roughly $110 each after the authorities hit them with a fine for violating Covid-19 restrictions at Saturday’s mass gathering.
The president had ridden his bike amid a crowd of other motorcyclists in the city of Sao Paulo before addressing his supporters from atop a car to denounce what he considered the state’s overly restrictive mask requirements. And he did so while not wearing a mask himself.
Bolsonaro said, in particular, that those who had recovered from Covid-19 or been immunized against it had no need to wear a mask in public. “Whoever is against this proposal, it’s because they don’t believe in science, because if they are vaccinated, there is no way the virus can be transmitted,” he said.
That statement is controversial because public health authorities across the world are not yet certain whether vaccination prevents virus transmission. Vaccine studies have shown that inoculation does reduce the virus’ load, but it is unclear whether it can stop Covid-19 from spreading altogether. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the risk of infection “in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus.”
The president’s statement was nonetheless welcomed by a crowd of his helmeted – and mostly maskless – supporters at the rally, which was attended by some 12,000 people, according to local authorities.
It is not the first time Bolsonaro has faced a fine for flouting Covid-19 restrictions. Back in May, he faced a similar penalty for not wearing a mask at another of his rallies, in the northeastern state of Maranhao. The authorities of both Maranhao and Sao Paulo have been at odds with the president over their strict Covid-19 measures.
Bolsonaro has long had a reputation of being a ‘Covid-denier.’ He has repeatedly dismissed the disease as nothing more than “a little flu,” declared there was no need to impose any serious lockdown measures, and told Brazilians to “stop whining” over the Covid-linked death toll. He also once infamously claimed the Pfizer vaccine could turn people into “crocodiles.”
He struck a different tone back in March, however, when Brazil already had one of the world’s highest Covid-19 death tolls – second only to that of the US. The president said his government had been “working tirelessly” to fight the disease since the start of the pandemic and officials announced that they were in talks with various vaccine manufacturers about a vaccination program.
Brazil has approved the jabs developed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer as well as China’s Sinovac, while Russia’s Sputnik V and Indian Covaxin were given a “conditional” approval. The Russian jab was greenlighted by the nation’s top health regulator after a rather controversial delay that the drug developers blamed on the US pressure.
So far, only just over 23 million Brazilians have been fully vaccinated against the virus, which is around 11 percent of the nation’s total 211-million-strong population.
Bolsonaro himself is also currently facing something much more serious than a fine since a commission of the Brazilian Senate launched an investigation into his government’s handling of the pandemic to identify those responsible for what the president’s critics call a botched response.
Although, the commission has no authority to make any court-style judgements and can only pass the evidence collected to the real judicial authorities if needed, the results of its work might still have some profound effects on the president’s political career ahead of the 2022 presidential election.
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