Rio re-opens Christ the Redeemer as pandemic rages in Brazil

By Janaína Quinet and Nayara Batschke

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 15 (efe-epa).- The iconic Christ the Redeemer statue was one of several Rio tourist attractions that re-opened Saturday despite the ongoing threat of coronavirus in Brazil, which is second only to the United States in both cases and deaths.

While Covid-19 has claimed more than 106,000 lives in Brazil and the number of confirmed infections stands at 3.27 million, tourism is a major Brazilian industry, especially here in the “Wonderful City.”

Indeed, the statue atop Corcovado mountain and other popular spots such as the city’s famous aquarium, the Rio Star Ferris Wheel and Sugarloaf mountain, were authorized to re-open in July, but decided to delay another month out of safety concerns.

“It’s a new experience, with different protocols, but it’s an enormous emotion to be able to see the city again from up here,” teacher Talita Rosa Mansur told Efe from the vantage point of Christ the Redeemer, closed since the middle of March.

The “new normal” for the statue, Sugarloaf, AquaRio and the Rio Star include restricted operating hours, mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing and requirements for visitors to make reservations.

And in preparation for re-opening, scores of soldiers disinfected the sites and instructed staff on how to keep things sanitary.

“The re-opening of the Christ symbolizes the re-opening of Brazil to tourism, to development, to environmental protection, to every social concern that the president (Jair Bolsonaro) has had from the beginning,” Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said in a ceremony at the statue.

Though many remain wary of the re-opening, others were eager to visit Rio’s iconic sites on a hot, sunny day.

“I wanted to bring my spouse immediately because he had never seen the Christ. Also because I wanted to remember how it, as the last time I saw it I was a little girl,” Tabata Chagas da Mata, 23, told Efe.

Dozens of people showed up early Saturday to stand in line for a seat on the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf mountain.

Rio de Janeiro is not alone among Brazil’s 27 states in trying to revive tourism.

Bahia, the northeastern state that has the second-highest number of cases after Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous region, decided this week to allow bars to re-open.

Salvador, the state capital, saw hundreds of people gathered on the street in the wee hours of Saturday as lockdown-weary revelers waited hours for tables at the coastal city’s trendiest bars and clubs.

Brazil’s tourism sector has lost 153.8 billion reais ($28.34 billion) over the last five months, according to a report from the National Confederation of Commerce of Goods, Services and Tourism (CNC).

Tourism-related businesses have been operating at just 14 percent of capacity since the middle of March, CNC economist Fabio Bentes said, emphasizing that re-opening attractions is not a panacea.

“Our projection points to a contraction of 32.1 percent in the sector’s inflation-adjusted turnover this year, with the prospect of returning to the pre-pandemic level in the third quarter of 2023,” Bentes said. EFE


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