Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro led a motorcycle rally in Rio de Janeiro with thousands of his supporters on Sunday. The far-right leader remains resistant in light of ongoing stress on the government to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The motorcyclists drove about 40 km (25 miles) along the city’s famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches before ending at Flamengo Beach, where Bolsonaro got off his motorcycle and greeted the crowd.
“My army will never take to the streets to force you to stay home,” the former army captain said.
“Without scientific evidence, governors and mayors have imposed detention or curfews … We are ready to take all necessary measures to guarantee your freedom,” Bolsonaro added.
The president has been widely criticized for avoiding coronavirus-related measures like lockdown, which could hamper the spread of the virus in Brazil, which is hit by the pandemic hard.
Earlier in the crisis, Bolsonaro referred to the virus as a ‘small flu’, indicated the use of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 and expressed local leaders who wanted to impose health restrictions.
More than 448,000 people have died from the coronavirus – the second-highest death rate in the world after the United States – and more than 16 million cases have been confirmed so far, according to Johns Hopkins University.
But Bolsonaro continues to deny the need for public health measures to tackle the virus – even as the Brazilian senate investigates the handling of its pandemic.
Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reported from Rio de Janeiro, said about 10,000 motorcyclists took part in Sunday’s rally, organized by one of Bolsonaro’s good friends.
“They want to show that President Jair Bolsonaro still has supporters despite what polls show. “Recent polls suggest that Bolsonaro will be defeated by former president Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva in the  election,” Yanakiew said.
Lula, who served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2011, is incompetent to run in the 2018 presidential election after being found guilty of corruption.
But a Supreme Court justice has ruled in March and opened the door to Lula’s return to politics. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in April.
While the left-wing leader has not said outright that he intends to run in next year’s election, recent polls suggest he would defeat Bolsonaro if he did.
“I ran eight kilometres before this interview … and I usually run 9 km a day, Monday to Friday, because it’s going to be very difficult, very tiring to go to Brazil and I have to get my legs ready for this country’s problems to solve, “Lula said during a recent interview.
‘I will be 77 (by next year’s election). I thought it was old. But then I saw Biden win the election at 78 and say, “Well, I’m a boy compared to Biden, so maybe I’m fine. ‘