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LATIN AMERICA | 04-03-2021 13:53

Cities in Brazil tighten restrictions amid record Covid surge

Brazil's Health Ministry has recorded an average of more than 1,300 Covid-19 fatalities per day over the past week, the worst yet for the hard-hit country of 212 million people. 

Rio de Janeiro announced new restrictions Thursday on bars, restaurants and beaches, seeking to contain a surge of Covid-19 that is pushing Brazil's hospitals to the breaking point.

The city of 6.7 million people is the latest to go back on partial lockdown in Brazil, which has registered record Covid-19 death tolls the past two days and is having its deadliest week of the pandemic.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro continues to downplay the new coronavirus, leaving cities and states to implement a patchwork of containment measures on their own.

Rio's new decree, which takes effect Friday for one week, orders bars and restaurants to close at 5pm, shuts all commercial activity on the city's famed beaches, and bans nightclubs, "samba circles" and other parties.

"All the measures we are announcing today have a single objective: to make sure 2021 is not a repeat of the genocide that happened in Rio de Janeiro in 2020," said Mayor Eduardo Paes, who took office in January, ousting Bolsonaro ally Marcelo Crivella.

The decree also forbids people from lingering in public spaces from 11pm to 5am, though traffic will not be restricted.

Shops will be allowed to remain open until 8pm, but, like bars and restaurants, must limit customers to 40 percent of capacity.

Paes said a sharp rise in severe respiratory emergencies led to the decision, though he said the city's hospitals were not facing imminent collapse, as they are in many parts of Brazil.

'Code red'

The measures come after São Paulo state – Brazil's largest, with 46 million people – declared a new "code red" Wednesday, ordering non-essential businesses closed for two weeks starting Saturday.

Nearly 260,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, the second-highest death toll in the pandemic, after the United States.

Brazil's Health Ministry has recorded an average of more than 1,300 Covid-19 fatalities per day over the past week, the worst yet for the hard-hit country of 212 million people. On Wednesday, officials registered a record death toll for the second straight day, with 1,910 lives lost.

"For the first time since the pandemic began, we are seeing a deterioration across the entire country," public health institute Fiocruz said before the latest figures were published. "The situation is alarming."

Experts say the emergence of a new virus variant known as P1 in the Amazon rainforest city of Manaus is also to blame for the recent surge. The variant is now present in 17 of Brazil's 27 states, and has been detected in more than two dozen countries. Studies indicate it is more contagious than the original strain of the virus and can re-infect people who have already had Covid-19.

Intensive care units are currently more than 80 percent full in 19 Brazilian states, according to Fiocruz. That means the hardest-hit states will have a tougher time sending overflow patients to neighbouring ones.

Meanwhile, the country's vaccination campaign got off to a relatively late start, in mid-January, and has been hit by shortages. Brazil is so far using Chinese-developed CoronaVac and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, both of which require two doses. It has administered a first dose to 7.1 million people and two doses to 2.1 million.

But it is far off pace to meet Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello's pledge of vaccinating the entire population by the end of the year.

"We weren't ready," said Isabella Ballalai of the Brazilian Immunological Society (Sbim). "This was predictable. We knew there was a new variant and there should have been a lockdown."

– TIMES/AFP

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