By Maria Angelica Troncoso
Rio de Janeiro, Jun 2 (efe-epa).- While scores of Rio de Janeiro residents rose before dawn on Tuesday to flock to the newly re-opened beaches on the first day of relaxation of the restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus in Brazil, others stayed home in the face of contradictory guidance from officials.
The “Wonderful City” embarked on the first phase of a six-stage path that is supposed to culminate in August with full normalization.
But as City Hall told “Cariocas” (as Rio residents are known) the beaches were open for surfing and outdoor sports, the Rio de Janeiro state government extended the restrictions on movement and activity that have been in place for more than two months.
Rio state accounts for 54,530 of Brazil’s nearly 530,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and for 5,462 of the more than 31,000 fatalities blamed on the illness.
Gov. Wilson Witzel issued an executive order Tuesday urging people to stay away from beaches, lakes, rivers and public swimming pools.
Yet Rio city’s iconic beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana, attracted not only plenty of surfers, but even larger numbers of bathers who – unlike the surfers – made little attempt to maintain social distance.
The city’s mayor, evangelical pastor Marcelo Crivella, ordered houses of worship to re-open a week ago, only for the courts to intervene with an instruction to keep the doors closed until further notice.
Besides liberating the beaches, Phase 1 of normalization involves allowing car dealerships and furniture stores to resume operation. The next step will see the re-opening of shopping malls and the return of professional soccer, albeit in closed stadiums.
Phase 3 will see restaurants and bars back in business, while schools and universities will remain closed until the final stage.
In a report to the Rio state Attorney General’s Office, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), one of the world’s leading public health research institutions, said that instead of loosening restrictions, Mayor Crivella should adopt more rigorous social distancing measures.
The pandemic “is not under control” in the city and Rio’s hospitals “are not in condition to respond to the current levels of contagion, much less an increase in the number of cases,” FIOCRUZ said.
Brazil is now second only to the United States in coronavirus cases and No. 4 worldwide in deaths, behind the US, the United Kingdom and Italy.
Epidemiologists say the peak of coronavirus in Brazil is still weeks away, yet several states, including hard-hit Sao Paulo, are beginning to restart their economies.
Sao Paulo is home to around 20 percent of Brazil’s 210 million people and to much of Brazilian industry.
The country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, continues to dismiss coronavirus as a “measly flu” and has railed at mayors and state governors for resorting to lockdowns and quarantines.
Though multiple presidential aides have tested positive for Covid-19, Bolsonaro goes out of his way to flout social distancing guidelines by mingling with his supporters at rallies. EFE