Anti-government protesters took to the streets in more than a score of cities across Brazil as the nation's confirmed death toll from Covid-19 soared past half a million.

People participate in a protest against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of Covid-19 pandemic in Cuiaba, Brazil, June 19, 2021.
People participate in a protest against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of Covid-19 pandemic in Cuiaba, Brazil, June 19, 2021. (Reuters)

Thousands have taken to the streets across Brazil to protest against President Jair Bolsonaro's pandemic response, blasting the leader for not acquiring vaccines fast enough and for questioning the need for mask-wearing.

Brazil surpassed 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Saturday, the Health Ministry said, registering 2,301 new deaths in the past 24 hours.

The country recorded an additional 82,288 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, with nearly 17.9 million cases of the disease registered since the pandemic began, according to ministry data. 

The government faces fierce criticism for passing up earlier opportunities to buy vaccines. Pharmaceutical maker Pfizer said it got no response to early offers to sell vaccines to the government between August and November last year.

"We are protesting against the genocidal Bolsonaro government that did not buy vaccines and has done nothing to take care of its people in the last year," said 36-year-old Aline Rabelo, while protesting on the national mall in Brasilia.

READ MORE: Brazilians hold nationwide protests against Bolsonaro's Covid handling

11% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated 

Bolsonaro's press office did not immediately respond to request for comment. Only 11% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated and 29% have received a first dose, Health Ministry data shows.

Brazil's largest broadcaster Globo reported that by early afternoon, protests had been held in at least 44 cities in 20 states.

Demonstrators widely alleged that the nearly 500,000 dead was a form of genocide carried out by the government on the Brazilian people, holding up signs demanding Bolsonaro be removed for office while chanting and beating drums.

While organisers promised the largest demonstrations yet in more than 300 cities, gatherings in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia on Saturday morning did not appear to be larger than the last major protests on May 29.

Protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, were scheduled to begin in the afternoon.

A special Senate committee is probing the Bolsonaro administration's pandemic response, highlighting the government's delayed efforts to acquire vaccines while prioritising unproven treatments.

READ MORE: Bolsonaro rejects calls for a lockdown to slow Covid-19 as death toll soars

Nearly 100,000 new infections, 2,000 deaths a day

Saturday's marches came a week after Bolsonaro led backers in a massive motorcycle parade in Sao Paulo, though his supporters and critics differ dramatically on the size of that event.

The country of some 213 million people is registering nearly 100,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths a day. Brazil’s reported death toll is second only to that of the US, where the number of lives lost has topped 600,000.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga confirmed that the official death toll had passed 500,000.

“I am working tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians in the shortest time possible and change this scenario that has plagued us for over a year,” Queiroga tweeted.

Brazil is registering more than 70,000 confirmed coronavirus infections every day.

READ MORE: Brazil approves more pandemic aid as poor families struggle

Source: TRTWorld and agencies