Brazilian drivers protest virus lockdown restrictions

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Hundreds of people denouncing pandemic lockdown measures opposed by President Jair Bolsonaro snarled traffic in major Brazilian cities on Saturday.

Protesters in trucks, cars and motorcycles, some wrapped in the country’s green and yellow flag, honked horns in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and the capital of Brasilia, calling for governors to resign over measures that have forced most businesses to close for weeks.

Bolsonaro has been a fierce critic of the states' stay-at-home measures, arguing that the economic harm could be more damaging than the illness. The protests took place a day after Bolsonaro fired his health minister, who had been promoting isolation measures.

In Rio de Janeiro, about 100 vehicles took part in the gridlock, cruising down Atlantica Avenue, along the iconic and temporarily shut-down Copacabana beach.

“Either we just have the pandemic, which is already a lot, or we have the pandemic and chaos,” said Anderson Moraes, a state lawmaker who had called for Rio residents to join the protest. “For sure, lives are more important than anything else, but we can’t take decisions today without thinking about tomorrow. Because tomorrow, I don’t know how a family man will be when he sees his children going hungry.”

In Brasilia, Bolsonaro reiterated his intention to start reopening the economy. “The fear was excessive,” he said Saturday, denouncing the “greed” of politicians “who have shut down everything and created panic.”

“People want a return to normality,” the president said in a Facebook Live session shortly before meeting with a small crowd of supporters who had gathered outside the Planalto presidential palace. “We’re going to start adding more flexibility.”

Brazil has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in Latin America — more than 36,500 — and at least 2,347 deaths. That is a relatively low number in relation to the country’s population of 211 million, but the outbreak’s peak is expected in May.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.