Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has dropped a law requiring face masks to be worn in public places even when the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country exceeded 1.5 million.
The Latin American country has the world’s second largest outbreak after the United States. The new virus has now killed more than 61,000 people across Brazil.
But Bolsonaro on Friday used his veto power to dilute a law aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. The law requires masks in public spaces, but the president removed regulations requiring face coatings in stores and churches.
One of the original articles provided that masks must be worn in “commercial and industrial establishments, religious temples, classrooms and even closed places where people gather”
However, Bolsonaro stated that the article was unconstitutional and said it would “possibly violate the home” when referring to closed places where business and meetings take place.
The Chamber of Deputies insisted on this clause referring to places that are “accessible to the public” and not homes, which are protected by the Constitution.
Bolsonaro also vetoed articles requiring stores and companies to provide staff with masks and authorities to distribute masks to “economically vulnerable people”.
Congress must now study the president’s veto power and decide whether to retain or reverse them.
“A tragedy predicted”
Since the outbreak of the virus, Bolsonaro has minimized the risks of what he originally called “little flu”. His resistance to lockdowns and flouting of measures aimed at stifling the spread of the virus has drawn criticism from some.
And for months he has been pushing the governors to reverse lockdown measures and reopen the economy. The new dismal milestone of 1.5 million cases came as large cities opened bars, restaurants and gyms, causing fears of infections to continue to rise.
In Rio de Janeiro, crowds gathered to drink on the sidewalk in an exclusive beachfront neighborhood on Thursday night, the first evening bars in the city were allowed to open again.
Pictures of the revelation in Leblon, where few wore face masks and people crowded close to each other, went viral on social media and condemned and worried.
“A tragedy predicted,” David Miranda, a federal congressman for Rio, wrote on Twitter above a picture of the narrow sidewalk. He criticized the city’s mayor Marcelo Crivella.
“Crivella’s decision to throw open the company’s doors comes with a high cost,” he added.
Crivella’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Rio alone, more than 6,600 people have died of COVID-19 over the past four months. Only 14 countries in the world have a death toll higher than the city. Intensive care units in public hospitals have a capacity of 70 percent.
Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest and most affected city, is expected to open bars and restaurants next week.