(Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday hailed supporters rallying in the country’s capital to back his administration as an unfolding political scandal adds to the public health crisis driven by the coronavirus outbreak.
Surrounded by security guards wearing masks, but not wearing one himself, Bolsonaro was shown in a live streaming video on his Facebook page greeting protesters waving Brazilian flags and calling him a “Legend,” days after Brazil topped Russia to become the world’s No. 2 virus hot spot after the United States.
The rally, one of several such demonstrations Bolsonaro has encouraged in recent weeks, came as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, a close ally of the far-right Bolsonaro, mulls a ban on travel from Brazil because of the worsening outbreak there.
Health Ministry figures released on Saturday evening showed that 16,508 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the total above 347,000, while the death toll increased by 965 to 22,013.
Bolsonaro was seen posing for photographs, shaking people’s hands and even carrying a young boy on his shoulders, part of a pattern of flouting and discouraging social isolation measures advised by health professionals to curb the pandemic.
More pro-Bolsonaro rallies were expected to take place in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city and the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The demonstrations follow a decision by Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court late last week to release a video recording of an April 22 ministerial meeting, in which Bolsonaro said he wanted to change security officials, their bosses or even ministers to stop his family and friends from getting “screwed.”
The political scandal revolves around an accusation by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a popular anti-graft crusader, that Bolsonaro aimed to interfere in police investigations.
(Reporting by Gabriela Mello in Sao Paulo; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)