Jair Bolsonaro defied public health advice to greet supporters and pose for pictures outside his presidential palace on the day Brazil overtook Spain and Italy to become the fourth highest for coronavirus infections in the world.
The president, who has repeatedly dismissed Covid-19 as comparable to a cold, donned face mask to welcome a crowd that had amassed outside the building to the protest against the lockdown.
Mr Bolsonaro has hit out at governors across the country for imposing restrictions on work and movement to stem the spread of the virus, which has claimed more than 15,000 lives in Brazil.
Confirmed infections in Brazil topped 240,000 on Sunday, putting the country behind only the US, Russia and the UK. The true number is thought to higher as Brazilian authorities have carried out relatively little testing.
Despite the figures, the president plucked children from the crowd of supporters for photographs on Sunday, the latest flouting of social distancing from a leader who has repeatedly left the confines of his governmental building to welcome crowds and speak out against the lockdown.
Supporters chanted “we want to work” and “chloroquine” in reference to the potentially harmful chemical promoted by the Brazilian president and Donald Trump as a supposed cure.
“Above all [the people] want freedom,” Mr Bolsonaro said in an online video welcoming the demonstrations, which have become a bi-weekly occurrence.
“They want democracy, they want respect,” he added, claiming that Brazilians wanted to get the economy back up and running as quickly as possible.
However, a recent poll showed that many Brazilians are in favour of the lockdown.
The survey found two-thirds of the public back social distancing measures introduced by the nation’s 27 state governors during the pandemic.
Mr Bolsonaro has tried to use his office to encourage the opening of gyms, hair salons and other businesses – placing the populist politician at odds with his own advisers.
Mr Bolsonaro has lost two health ministers in a month, after both resisted his calls for the end of lockdown measures.
The second of those, Nelson Teich, resigned on Friday after sparring with the president over the government’s response to the pandemic which has killed 15,724 people in Brazil.
Nationwide testing in Brazil still lags far behind European nations. Brazil had processed nearly 338,000 novel coronavirus tests in official labs by the beginning of the week, according to the Health Ministry. Another 145,000 tests were under analysis or waiting in line.
By contrast, Italy and Spain have each run some 1.9 million official diagnostic tests for the virus.
Additional reporting by Reuters