Brazilian cities start reopening ahead of expected COVID-19 peak

Rio de Janeiro, May 25 (efe-epa).- Various regions of Brazil are beginning a gradual reopening despite a study showing that the COVID-19 epidemic is yet to reach its peak in the country, which is now second most-affected in the world with almost 375,000 cases and more than 23,000 deaths.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the evangelical pastor Marcelo Crivella, decided on Monday to maintain the social isolation measures in the city, although he guaranteed that the churches will be able to function.

Crivella announced that the restriction measures in Rio will continue for at least another week, but said that churches will be included among the essential services able to operate during the epidemic, which has already caused 4,000 deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

While health authorities suspect a possible lack of control of COVID-19 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, which accounts for more than 2,800 deaths and some 22,000 cases, the mayor said this has not been confirmed.

“Today we have mastered the pandemic – we did not enter into chaos. We had a huge concern with an explosion of cases in the city. Thanks to the equipment that arrived, we did not have that,” he said.

However, he assured that he will not “relax the social distancing measures” and pointed out the need to wait “to start the return to activities.”

The Mayor’s Office plans a possible de-escalation from June and already has protocols for the reopening of some businesses that do not involve crowds, such as furniture stores or vehicle dealers.

However, a study by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro indicated that the expected peak of COVID-19 in the state will occur in the first fortnight of June, while deaths could rise to 30,000 if more stringent isolation measures were not adopted.

Despite the fact that Brazil has in the last few days risen to become the country with the second-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States, various cities have relaxed restrictions, as is the case of Niteroi, in the Rio metropolitan region, and Duque de Caxias, the second municipality with more deaths in the region.

In Niteroi, beauty salons, hotels, real estate agencies, hotels and garages, among other businesses, are open with some sanitary protocols, such as the offer of hand sanitizer, distancing between people and the mandatory use of masks.

In Duque de Caxias, a municipal decree allowed the reopening of all commercial activities, which led dozens of people to the streets, but a judicial decision later determined that businesses should remain closed.

Likewise, the inhabitants of Sao Luis, the capital of the northeastern state of Maranhao – the first in the country to decree total lockdown on May 3 – have filled the streets.

On Monday thousands of people crowded the sidewalks and queued to access shops in various sectors.

The Maranhao governorate announced a “gradual and secure” process for the reopening of economic activities in the state, which will be carried out in stages over 45 days.

In the city of Belo Horizonte, shopping malls, hairdressers and other businesses reopened Monday with long queues of waiting customers, despite fears of the mayor’s medical team regarding the relaxation of isolation measures.

On Friday the city council announced a de-escalation in four stages starting Monday, although the municipal health secretary, Jackson Machado, said that the relaxation may be halted if people don’t observe safety measures such as social distancing.

“We are afraid because we do not know what will happen, but we hope that everyone will keep their distance,” said Machado.

Acting health minister Eduardo Pazuello reiterated Monday that the coronavirus crisis has not yet hit the interior cities of the country and said that they must be prepared.

The minister pointed out that these cities, which often suffer from a lack of equipment, hospitals and even doctors, do not have the same sanitary structures as large cities.

“We will have to have the structures that were prepared in the capital and metropolitan regions to receive those people from the interior who do not have the structures there,” stressed the minister of the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, one of the most skeptical leaders in the world regarding the severity of the pandemic. EFE-EPA

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