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LATIN AMERICA | 20-03-2021 07:30

Covid surges back in Brazil, sparking fears in neighbouring Argentina

Covid-19 is raging in Brazil, where intensive care units are more than 80 percent full in 25 out of 27 states. In Rio, the rate is 95 percent.

Rio de Janeiro closed its famed beaches Friday in a bid to contain a surge of Covid-19, a move criticised by anti-lockdown President Jair Bolsonaro – who said sun-deprived citizens risked a lack of vitamin D.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said the situation in the iconic beach city was "very critical," and urged residents to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.

Covid-19 is raging in Brazil, where intensive care units are more than 80 percent full in 25 out of 27 states. In Rio, the rate is 95 percent.

Brazil registered its second-deadliest day of the pandemic Friday, with 2,815 deaths in 24 hours and a record 90,500 cases.

News from over the border has rocked neighbouring Argentina, with the government fearing a potential second wave of infections, boosted by returning residents from holiday.

But Bolsonaro, who has railed against stay-at-home measures and face masks, continued his campaign to keep the economy fully open, criticizing Rio's beach closure on the grounds that it would deprive residents of needed sunshine.

"Vitamin D is a way to prevent the virus from seriously affecting you. And where do you get vitamin D? From the sun. Such hypocrisy," said the far-right leader.

Rio also closed its beaches a year ago during the first wave of Covid-19, with limited results.

Legendary beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema were often jam-packed on sunny days, with few police around to enforce the closure.

The city had fully reopened its beaches again in November, just before the southern hemisphere summer.

Paes also banned bus arrivals in the city for the weekend, seeking to keep tourists from adding to the spread of the virus. He warned that more restrictive measures could be announced Monday, after he meets with the expert committee advising him on the pandemic. 

"I am calling on all 'Cariocas'" – the nickname for Rio residents – "now is the time to stay home," Paes told a press conference.

The city of 6.7 million people had already ordered businesses to close at 9pm starting March 5.

São Paulo, Brazil's economic capital, meanwhile decided to move up a series of five holidays in hopes of keeping more people at home.

Brazil is struggling to deal with a new wave of Covid-19 cases that experts say is driven partly by the emergence of a new strain of the virus known as "P1" or the Brazil variant. 

The country’s Covid-19 death toll has increased sharply in recent weeks, to more than 290,000, second only to the United States.

Argentina’s Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said Friday that rising infections in Brazil, Paraguay and Chile were of concern, with officials now pushing the message that all travel abroad is discouraged.

"From the Federal Health Council we want to convey to the population the need to discourage tourist trips, discourage trips that are not essential due to the risk of having contact with the virus and becoming ill abroad and due to the health risk of bringing a variant of Covid-19 that can generate complications in the country," said Vizzotti.

– TIMES/AFP

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