Bolsonaro Lauds Protesters Taking to Streets Despite Virus Risk

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro applauded a series of pro-government, anti-Congress protests around the country on Sunday, three days after suggesting they would be canceled due the risk of coronavirus spread.

Bolsonaro joined a demonstration in Brasilia. In a live broadcast on social media, he distributed more than a dozen fist bumps to supporters outside of the presidential palace, protected behind two parallel waist-high grids.

The president, who tested negative to the virus this week after potentially being exposed by a staff member, also threw a hat to supporters and grabbed a Brazilian flag from the group packed behind the grids.

Bolsonaro and legislators have been clashing for weeks over Brazil’s budget.

“This is not a protest against institutions, this is a protest pro-Brazil,” he said.

The president posted videos on his Facebook and Twitter pages featuring supporters who ignored health authorities’ recommendations of social distancing and instead gathered in different cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Belem, Maceio and Juiz de Fora.

The images showed a number of elderly people, the most vulnerable group to the virus. Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 with strong support from senior voters. His backers were mostly dressed in green and yellow shirts, the colors of the current administration.

On March 12, Bolsonaro, wearing a face mask on a live social media broadcast, suggested calling off the protests.

“What we need to do now is avoid an explosion of infected people,” the president said then, flanked by his health minister. “If the government doesn’t take measures, the number of infected will go up and the system won’t be able to handle it.”

Brazil has 121 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 1,496 cases under review as of Sunday. The presidency didn’t immediately respond to comment requests about the risk of contamination among supporters.

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