Despite opposition from its top leader, Brazil appears to be moving forward with COVID-19 restrictions that are expected to slow the spread of the virus and as vaccination rates continue to grow.

The moves come as the country, with a population of about 210 million, has been among the worst affected by the pandemic.

New travel restrictions are expected to stave off a wave of cases as an uptick in visitors has been expected ahead of Carnival. Brazil’s supreme court recently ruled that all travelers arriving from outside the country must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination prior to arrival. 

The ruling by Justice Luis Roberto Barroso did not specify when the new travel requirements will be implemented but it will be further reviewed next week by the 10 other judges of Brazil’s highest court, Al Jazeera noted.

"The daily entry of thousands of travelers into the country, the approach of the end of the year festivities, pre-carnival events and the carnival itself, capable of attracting large numbers of tourists, and the threat of [current policies] promoting anti-vaccine tourism, due to the imprecision of the regulations that require the voucher, represents an imminent risk," Barroso said in the decision.

Travelers from countries without widespread vaccine access and those with waivers for health problems will be exempt from the ruling. Those travelers must instead quarantine for five days and test negative for COVID-19. 

Current entry requirements if flying to Brazil include a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours or a negative antigen test taken within 24 hours of boarding. Travelers must also complete a health declaration within 72 hours before boarding. Children under two years old are exempt, as are children under 12, who are accompanied by an adult with a negative test.

The recent vaccination requirement defies the efforts of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who often referred to COVID as “mere sniffles” and openly opposed mask-wearing, lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions imposed worldwide to protect against the spread of the virus. 

"In the Pfizer contract, it's very clear: 'We're not responsible for any side effects.' If you turn into a crocodile, that's your problem,” Bolsonaro said

Bolsonaro didn't stop there. "If you become superhuman, if a woman starts to grow a beard or if a man starts to speak with an effeminate voice, they [Pfizer] won't have anything to do with it," he said.

Bolsonaro added that “we all have to die sometime.”

The "economy first" strategy from Bolsonaro put lives at risk but many of Brazil’s 27 state governors and its mayors have taken matters into their own hands. In March, Bolsonaro called the local officials "tyrants."

Despite Bolsonaro rejecting calls to impose a nationwide lockdown, Brazilian officials have worked tirelessly to protect the population with COVID measures. In May, Bolsonaro, himself, was even fined for not adhering to health safety regulations at a public event.

Large Christmas and New Year’s celebrations have been scaled back with news of the Omicron variant as Brazil enters its busy summer season. The typical New Year's gathering at Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach, for example, will be spread out in nine different locations in the hopes of avoiding large crowds. 

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes also announced that New Year's concerts will be canceled. 

"We are going to have fireworks visible from various parts of the city. We are going to have New Year's Eve at 10 points to avoid displacements and crowding (...) There will not be a ban on people from being on Copacabana beach," Paes told local media outlet G1.

Brazil ranks second in the world with the highest coronavirus mortality rate, with over 600,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

These deaths have largely been linked to Bolsonaro’s mishandling of the pandemic and his “deliberate and conscious” delay in releasing COVID vaccines which contributed to the “stratospheric” coronavirus death toll that devastated South America’s largest economy, which had headed to a recession. 

The editorial board of the Financial Times noted that Bolsonaro's faults extend beyond his handling of the pandemic, as he also bears responsibility for "bungling the economy, too." In November, Brazil's economic ministry reported that GDP would likely grow by 5.1% in 2021 and 2.1% in 2022, down from 5.3% and 2.5%, respectively, from a previous outlook.

Coronavirus cases and deaths have been declining in Brazil as more people get vaccinated. An average of about 200 people died of COVID-19 per day in the past week, down from nearly 3,000 in April, the Washington Post noted.

About 78% of the Brazilian population has at least one dose of the COVID vaccine while 66% are fully vaccinated.