SAO PAULO (AP) – The night before New Years Eve in Rio de Janeiro, thousands of revelers in their swimsuits crowded into iconic Ipanema Beach for drinks by the sea. C was one of many outdoor parties that have been taking place along Brazil’s vast coast since the summer heat set in and the death toll from COVID-19 rose.
“It was so crowded you couldn’t set foot on the beach,” said a maintenance worker at a luxury apartment building across the street. “And it wasn’t just at night; the beach was also crowded during the day. And no one wears a mask! he added, insisting not to be cited by name for fear the building owner would punish him for speaking to a reporter.
The explosion of celebrations came just ahead of a pandemic milestone: Brazil topped 200,000 deaths on Thursday, increasing by 1,524 in the past 24 hours to a total of 200,498 for the pandemic, according to data released by the Brazilian ministry of Health. It is the second highest toll in the world, behind the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins University database.
Many Brazilians have been battling quarantine for months, going to bars or small gatherings with friends, but massive eruptions have been rare since the start of the pandemic. The festivities began after the start of summer in the southern hemisphere on December 21.
As many countries have imposed new restrictions to limit the spread of the virus in mid-December, the administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has given its blessing for the holiday in the sun. Tourism Minister Gilson Machado told Jovem Pan radio station that gatherings of up to 300 people were perfectly acceptable. The decision to impose restrictions is the prerogative of local governments; some who did have had their rules ignored.
A prominent YouTuber threw a party near a river beach for hundreds of people in Alagoas state in the country’s northeast region. Days later, local media reported that 47 people, among unmasked guests and staff, had contracted COVID-19. At least two have been admitted to intensive care units.
A five-day New Year’s party drew 150 people to the property owned by football star Neymar outside of Rio, although he denied any association with the VIP event.
Outside Sao Paulo, Bolsonaro kicked off 2021 by jumping out of a boat and swimming towards a crowd of unmasked and enthusiastic supporters.
And cops in the town of Bertioga, on the coast of Sao Paulo, used tear gas to disperse a celebration in the wee hours of New Year’s Day.
“Just before the holidays, the situation was already getting worse. But this week or next, things will get even worse, ”Domingos Alves, assistant professor of social medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press this week.
Alves, who heads a team of researchers who track COVID-19 data, warned that daily confirmed cases in several states had already surpassed numbers seen during Brazil’s July peak.
Intensive care units in many cities are again criticized by patients with COVID-19. The mayor of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state – which a local study has found to have achieved collective immunity after his brutal first wave – declared a 180-day state of emergency on Tuesday and suspended all permits for events. State authorities have banned all non-essential activities for 15 days in most of the city
The city of 2.2 million people has recorded 3,550 deaths since the start of the pandemic and the number of COVID-19 burials has increased. Outside at least one cemetery, cars lined up filled with people waiting to bury their loved ones.
Vanda Ortega, a volunteer nurse with the indigenous nations community in Manaus, told the AP that the city has taken a hands-off approach to the virus, first in local elections in November with large rallies and long queues of voters.
“Then we had the party season, with a lot of secret parties,” said Ortega, who is of the Witoto ethnicity. “We live in an area where the rich have shacks. They have parties every week.
Many mayors on the Sao Paulo coast have ignored vacation restrictions imposed by their governor. In at least 12 cities, mayors have kept shops, hotels and beaches open to tourists.
The images of traffic jams and crowded beaches, with crowds largely unmasked, were so shocking that European Union Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni expressed his disbelief on Twitter, saying: ‘I have seen shameful images of the Brazil”.
And Bolsonaro – who has consistently downplayed the risks of the virus despite having caught a case himself – signaled during his New Year’s swim that he would continue to ignore protective measures seen in most countries. .
“I dived with a mask so as not to catch COVID from the little fish,” he joked a few days later in front of the presidential palace.
Even some Brazilians who consider themselves cautious abandon their guard. Football fan Ricardo Santos, 46, says he covers his face every time he goes out, carries hand sanitizer in his bag and observes social distancing. But on Wednesday, he and a dozen other Palmeiras fans went to a bar in downtown Sao Paulo to watch their team play.
“I spent New Years with only two friends who live in the same building. I take precautions. But sometimes you also have to accept a little risk to preserve your sanity, ”Santos said.
Back on Ipanema beach in Rio, Joao Batista Baria, 57, said he criticized authorities for failing to protect its poorest residents.
“Everyone is talking about these beach parties, but there are also crowds on the bus, in the metro,” said Baria, cleaning the folding chairs that tourists and residents rent to enjoy the sunshine. summer. “People come to the beach because they want to. I have to take the bus to get to work. ”