Loud protests have erupted across Brazil as the country’s Covid-sceptic president, Jair Bolsonaro, struggled to defend his handling of the pandemic and claimed citizens would soon be able to resume their “normal lives” despite the soaring death toll.

Bolsonaro, whose anti-science response to coronavirus has drawn international condemnation, made a televised address to the country on Tuesday night, as Brazil suffered by far its heaviest day of losses since the outbreak began last February.

According to a coalition of Brazilian news groups, which has been keeping a tally since Bolsonaro’s administration was accused of trying to suppress such information last year, a record 3,158 deaths were registered on Tuesday, as well as 84,996 new infections. Brazil’s official death toll – already the world’s second highest after the US – rose to 298,843 and was likely to exceed 300,000 on Wednesday. About a third of the global total of fatalities were recorded in Brazil on Tuesday.

“What I see before me is a country that attaches no value to the lives of its citizens,” the scientist and broadcaster Átila Iamarino said of his government’s response.

In a four-minute pronouncement that was greeted with shrieks of rage and frustration in some of Brazil’s biggest cities, Bolsonaro defended his reaction to the epidemic, claiming that by opposing containment measures such as lockdown he had been trying to protect jobs and avoid “economic chaos”.

“I want to reassure the Brazilian people and let them know that vaccines are assured,” claimed the far-right populist who critics accuse of undermining vaccination efforts by vowing not to be vaccinated himself and failing to acquire sufficient shots for the rest of the country.

Bolsonaro, who has dismissed Covid-19 as a “little flu”, blamed Brazil’s current drama on the new P1 variant thought to have emerged late last year in the Brazilian Amazon and claimed: “Very soon we will resume our normal lives.”

“We are tireless in our fight against coronavirus – this is our mission and we will fulfil it,” the former army captain added.

The pronouncement came almost exactly a year to the day after Bolsonaro made a now notorious television address in which he claimed fears over the pandemic were exaggerated “and soon it will pass”.

“In my particular case, because of my background as an athlete, I wouldn’t need to worry if I was infected by the virus,” Bolsonaro boasted on 24 March 2020, when Brazil’s death toll stood at 46, sparking noisy pot-banging protests across the country.

The dissent returned with a vengeance on Tuesday with loud protests reported in major cities such as Brasília, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Recife as Bolsonaro spoke. In Rio de Janeiro dissenters could be heard heaping scorn and insults on the president from the windows of apartment buildings where residents have lost their lives. “Murderer!”, “Liar!” they bellowed. “Be gone, Bolsonaro!”

A person beats a pot from a window to protest against Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro
A person beats a pot from a window to protest against Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Experts and scientific evidence contradict Bolsonaro’s claim that Brazil will soon return to “normal life” and many state capitals are now entering a period of lockdown despite his opposition to such moves.

“This is the most severe moment of the pandemic and the prognosis is not good,” said Margareth Dalcolmo, a pneumologist from the public health institute Fiocruz.

“The situation is dramatic. The hospitals are completely exploding. There are no available beds any more – even for rich people,” Dalcolmo added, calling for a two-week lockdown that might slow the spread of the virus.

On Tuesday more than 1,000 deaths were reported in São Paulo state alone. The state’s governor, João Doria, blamed the calamity on Brazil’s “psychopathic leader”.

This content first appear on the guardian

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