Sao Paulo, Brazil, Apr 18 (EFE).- Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state and the one hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, on Sunday reopened its churches and businesses after a little more than a month of lockdown despite the fact that the spread of the coronavirus is accelerating in the region and throughout the country.
The reopening is the start of an easing of restrictions that will continue through next week and which is designed to resuscitate economic and social activities that were partially interrupted on March 6 in the state that is Brazil’s industrial heart and provides 30 percent of the country’s GDP.
According to the reopening plan set forth by the authorities, which is subject to ongoing evaluation given the evolution of the pandemic, a curfew between 8 pm and 5 am will still be maintained and restaurants, hair salons and exercise facilities will remain closed until at least April 24.
The decision to ease restrictions was adopted despite the fact that the pandemic is not slackening and Brazil is experiencing its worst phase of the health emergency since Feb. 26, 2020, when the first case was detected in the country, specifically in Sao Paulo city.
Official statistics show that Brazil – which, along with the US, Mexico and India has suffered most from the pandemic in terms of outright cases and deaths – has experienced almost 372,000 deaths and some 14 million confirmed cases of Covid-19.
But the situation has worsened in recent weeks, given that several new and more virulent variants of the coronavirus have substantially increased the Brazilian caseload, sending the hospital system to the verge of collapse amid a growing shortage of medicines and vaccine.
In fact, experts forecast that in the coming weeks, Brazil will surpass 400,000 Covid deaths, with almost half of them coming within the first several months of this year.
Sao Paulo state, the most populous and developed in the country with 42 million residents, in recent days has been suffering some 800 deaths per day, on average, for a total death toll of 80,000, along with a daily average of some 20,000 newly confirmed cases.
Sao Paulo authorities have admitted that the reopening process, which many health experts consider to be rushed, has been implemented in part due to pressure brought to bear by a group of businessmen along with growing unemployment, which in Brazil stands at around 14 percent.
This past week, the Brazilian Association of Shopping Centers (Abrasce), which groups the owners of the country’s 601 shopping centers, warned about massive layoffs if restrictions on their operations continue, those restrictions – to date – being the most stringent in Sao Paulo state.
According to Abrasce, if the lockdowns are not ended, some 60,000 people will be laid off in “the coming weeks” in the sector, a significant number of them in Sao Paulo, where almost 30 percent of Brazil’s malls and shopping centers are located.
After the reopening, Abrasce president Glauco Humai said he was satisfied with the authorities’ decision, but he warned that now it will be necessary to “remain open.”
According to the business leader, “that dynamic of closing and opening, opening and closing, is very harmful, since it brings instability and creates insecurity” among businessmen.
Added to the pressure from the business sector is also pressure from religious groups, especially from the country’s influential evangelical churches, which in recent days have staged demonstrations in many cities around Brazil for “religious freedom” and the reopening of churches, which in Sao Paulo were reopened on Sunday.