Thousands protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo as the country reaches 500,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Protesters ask for Bolsonaro to be impeached for what they see as his inability in handling the pandemic crisis in Brazil. Prominent left-wing political figures, such as Sao Paulo’s former mayor and presidential candidate were also present and gave speeches.
Brazil on Saturday became the second country after the United States to surpass 500,000 COVID-19 deaths as the South American giant grapples with a third wave of the pandemic.
"500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic that affects our Brazil and the world," Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga tweeted. The Health Ministry reported 500,800 deaths, including 2,301 in the last 24 hours, a toll that many experts say underestimate the real toll from the health crisis.
This week the average number of daily deaths surpassed 2,000 for the first time since May 10.
"The third wave is arriving, there's already in a change in the case and death curves," Ethel Maciel, an epidemiologist from Espirito Santo University, told AFP.
"Our vaccination (program), which could make a difference, is slow and there are no signs of restrictive measures, quite the contrary."
In large cities, life seems almost back to normal with restaurants, bars and shops open and many people in the streets not wearing face masks.
And yet the situation is critical in 19 of Brazil's 27 states with more than 80 percent occupancy of intensive care beds -- in nine of those states it's over 90 percent.
Many epidemiologists believe lockdown restrictions were lifted too soon at a time when daily deaths were still up around the 2,000 mark.
Brazil has recently received several batches of vaccines, including from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, but the country has only managed to fully vaccinate 11 percent of the population, with 29 percent receiving one dose.
The vaccination drive began late in mid-January using the AstraZeneca and Coronavac jabs.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who previously hit out at vaccines, has promised to immunize the entire population by the end of the year -- something specialists consider unlikely.
Bolsonaro has been criticized for downplaying the pandemic from the outset, opposing lockdown measures and plugging unproven medical treatments for COVID, and on Saturday thousands of Brazilians again took to the streets in protest against him.
In rallies in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and elsewhere, people carried banners with slogans like "Bolsonaro must go" or simply "500,000."
"500,000 deaths from a disease for which there is now a vaccine, in a country that has been a world leader in vaccination. There is a word for that: genocide," leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tweeted. "Solidarity with the people of Brazil."