Rio de Janeiro is 1st Brazilian state capital to stop requiring facemasks

By Carlos A. Moreno

Rio de Janeiro, Mar 7 (EFE).- Starting this week, people will be able to circulate in both open-air and closed venues in Rio de Janeiro without being required to wear facemasks, and the city later this month will also cancel the rule demanding presentation of a Covid-19 vaccination certificate to enter places like movie theaters and tourist attractions.

The end of two of the main restrictions imposed to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic was announced Monday by the mayor of Brazil’s second-largest city, Eduardo Paes, thus making Rio de Janeiro the country’s first state capital to cease demanding that people wear facemasks everywhere in public.

Brazil’s main tourist city had already announced last October an end to the obligatory use of facemasks in open spaces and on Monday it extended that authorization to closed public spaces, although the measure will not enter into force until Tuesday with its publication in the Official Daily.

“In compliance with the ruling by the Scientific Committee, on Tuesday the decree putting an end to the obligatory use of masks in open and closed spaces will be published,” Paes announced after a meeting of the committee with scientists and experts advising the Mayor’s Office on measures to deal with the pandemic.

“And with the effort to vaccinate everyone who can receive the booster shot, in three weeks we’ll also put an end to the (vaccination certificate) requirement,” he added.

Municipal Health Secretary Daniel Soranz said at a press conference that the Scientific Committee recommended that facemasks only remain obligatory for health professionals and in schools, as well as for people with high-risk diseases, the unvaccinated and those showing influenza symptoms.

“We have the lowest (Covid) transmission index since the start of the pandemic, of just 0.3 (i.e. three new infections for every 10 already infected people) and a positivity rate (that is, the percentage of positive results among all Covid tests) of 3.9 percent, with a gradual reduction over the course of recent weeks,” Soranz said.

He noted that fewer than 1 percent of people who are currently hospitalized in Rio are being treated for Covid and that the World Health Organization feels that the health emergency can be viewed as under control when the percentage of positive cases is below 5 percent of all Covid tests being performed.

“Today, it’s more and more difficult to find a serious Covid case in Rio de Janeiro due to our high rate of vaccine coverage,” the secretary said, adding that the high number of vaccinated people halted the spread of the virus, and thus authorities do not expect an increase in cases after the clandestine dance troupe street parties registered last week during the period of the banned Carnival celebration.

He went on to say that the strategy of prohibiting the entry of unvaccinated tourists into the Brazilian tourist mecca also helped to control the pandemic within the city.

Currently, 83.8 percent of Rio’s total population has been fully vaccinated, although the figure is 89.2 percent of the population who are allowed to be vaccinated. And 42.3 percent already have received a booster shot.

Lifting one of the main restrictions designed to hinder the spread of Covid in Rio comes when Brazil has suffered more than 652,000 deaths from the virus and about 30 million known cases, making it the world’s No. 2 country in terms of the official tally of victims and the No. 3 nation in total infections, following the US and India.

Despite the fact that the number of infections and deaths from Covid last December were at levels similar to the start of the pandemic, long before anyone had been vaccinated, the arrival of the Omicron variant sent the number of infections skyrocketing to new record levels in January.

But in recent weeks, the numbers have fallen sharply nationwide.

The average number of new weekly infections in Brazil fell from almost 190,000 per day on Feb. 3 to about 40,130 per day as of March 6, the lowest level since Jan. 11. And, the average number of daily Covid deaths fell from 951 on Feb. 11 to 430 as of March 6, the lowest level since Jan. 28.

EFE cm/ag/cfa/bp

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