Ditching mask, Brazil’s president rallies with backers as virus surges

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro hits the streets for a rally with his supporters, ditching his face mask and breaking social distancing measures, even as coronavirus cases surge in Brazil.

The far-right president arrives at the rally outside the presidential palace in Brasilia in a white surgical mask, but soon takes it off to greet the cheering crowd, shake hands and embrace supporters, at one point even hoisting a young boy onto his shoulders.

The rally comes as Brazil emerges as a new flashpoint in the pandemic.

With nearly 350,000 confirmed cases, Brazil now has the second-biggest caseload in the world, after the United States. It has registered more than 22,000 deaths.

Experts say under-testing means the real figures are likely far higher.

Bolsonaro has famously compared the virus to a “little flu” and argues that stay-at-home measures are unnecessarily hurting the economy.

He grins as flag-waving supporters shout “Legend!” and “The people support you, Bolsonaro!”

But although Bolsonaro has a solid core of support — about 30 percent of voters, according to recent polls — he faces mounting criticism for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, as well as a potentially explosive probe into whether he obstructed justice to protect his family from police investigations.

AFP

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