Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) admitted to being annoyed by the mandatory wearing of a mask but said he would abide by the rule if only to differentiate himself from current president Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly refused to do so.
I cannot speak with the mask, Lula said. In fact, the mask is a muzzle. But I wear it, even though it bothers me a lot, to show the difference from the genocidal man who governs this country, he said, quoted by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
Bolsonaro announced last week that he had asked the health ministry for an opinion on freeing people already vaccinated from wearing masks following US President Joseph Biden's slogan of chinstrap or vaccine.
But Bolsonaro's stance against anti-covid-19 protocols goes further. Last weekend he was fined by the state of Sao Paulo for organising a motorbike rally without a mask in the continent's largest city, despite prior warnings from governor Joao Doria.
Bolsonaro was fined R$552.71 (US$108) on Saturday for violating covid-19 containment measures in Sao Paulo state by failing to wear a face mask and provoking large crowds at a motorbike rally among supporters.
Thousands of roaring motorbikes took part in the Accelerate for Christ rally in Sao Paulo, led by the far-right president, who wore an open helmet and no mask, in violation of state health regulations.
Bolsonaro, who has been holding rallies across Brazil as he prepares to seek re-election next year, defied an earlier warning from Sao Paulo governor Joao Doria, a political rival, who had said the president would be fined if he failed to comply with state regulations.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly clashed with Doria and other governors over measures against Covid-19, which has claimed nearly 485,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.
The president regularly criticises confinement measures and masks, instead of promoting drugs such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine despite studies showing they are ineffective against Covid-19.
Addressing a crowd of flag-waving supporters, Bolsonaro renewed his comments against the masks, saying he planned to order that requirement removed for people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Anyone who is against that doesn't believe in science. There is no way a vaccinated person can transmit the virus, he said.
In fact, there is still little scientific consensus on whether vaccinated people are at risk of spreading the coronavirus. Public health officials have generally urged them to continue wearing masks in at-risk situations.
State officials said they had fined Bolsonaro, his congressman son, Eduardo, and Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Gomes for not wearing masks and not observing social distancing measures at the rally.