Coronavirus: Bolsonaro dilutes law requiring face masks be worn in Brazil

A man in Rio de Janeiro wears a face mask featuring an image of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. PHOTO: AFP

BRASILIA (AFP) - Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday (July 3) watered down a law requiring the wearing of face masks in public places to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The far-right leader used his veto power to remove articles obliging people to wear masks in shops and churches.

Face coverings are already mandatory in several states, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but this was the first such law on a national level.

One of the original articles stipulated that masks must be worn in "commercial and industrial establishments, religious temples, teaching premises and also closed places where people are gathering."

Bolsonaro alleged the article was unconstitutional, saying it could "possibly violate the home" in referring to closed places where businesses and meetings take place.

The Chamber of Deputies insisted this clause referred to places that are "accessible to the public" and not homes, which are protected by the constitution.

Bolsonaro also vetoed articles requiring shops and businesses to provide staff with masks and public authorities to distribute masks to "economically vulnerable people."

Congress must now study the president's vetos and decide whether to maintain or reverse them.

On Tuesday, a judge overturned a court ruling requiring Bolsonaro to wear a face mask in public, deeming it unnecessary given it was already obligatory in the capital Brasilia.

Since the beginning of the virus outbreak, Bolsonaro has minimised the risks of what he initially called "a little flu" and flouted social distancing rules and containment measures, such as wearing a mask in public.

Brazil is the second worst-hit country in the world in the pandemic, with more than 61,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases.

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