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Big Brazilian cities paying the price after New Year coronavirus breaches

. Jan 11, 2021
coronavirus holidays brazil second wave Florianópolis: many Brazilians celebrated the holidays disregarding restrictions. We now see the results. Photo: Leandro Reichert/Shutterstock

On Monday morning, the streets of Belo Horizonte lay quiet as one of Brazil’s biggest cities entered its third coronavirus lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic. Only essential businesses are allowed to open and the measure will remain in place indefinitely, as the city experiences a worrying surge in Covid-19 cases. Indeed, this scenario is set to repeat in major urban centers across Brazil.

Despite cancellations and tighter restrictions in almost every Brazilian city, a large part of the population paid no heed to the warnings and enjoyed their end-of-year holidays as normal.

</p> <p>Besides engaging in the traditional shopping rush, gatherings with family and friends were commonplace on Christmas and New Year&#8217;s Eve. And, in the January heat, throngs descended on the country&#8217;s beaches to enjoy a bit of sun and sand before returning to work. Now, it seems, Brazil will have to pay the piper.</p> <p>The number of <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/">Covid-19</a> infections and deaths have exploded throughout the country, with the national total of coronavirus victims <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2021/01/07/brazilian-government-to-purchase-coronavac-as-deaths-hit-200000/">topping 200,000 last week</a>. On Wednesday, <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2021/01/06/manaus-biggest-amazon-city-back-in-coronavirus-chaos/">we showed</a> how Manaus — the largest city in the Amazon region — has returned to square one in its coronavirus fight. Other major urban areas, such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Belo Horizonte, are seeing their public hospitals bursting at the seams.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/4692692"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>In Rio de Janeiro, the occupancy rate of public Covid-19 intensive care beds hit 93 percent on Friday and is expected to reach 100 percent in the coming days. After cancelling the city&#8217;s world-famous New Year&#8217;s Eve party and suspending 2021&#8217;s <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/02/22/brazil-2020-carnival-in-numbers/">Carnival</a>, the municipal government has admitted that public spaces may be closed in the near future.</p> <p>As of Thursday, the city of Rio de Janeiro had recorded a total of 15,312 deaths and 171,843 confirmed Covid-19 cases. On Friday, Mayor Eduardo Paes said he will purchase 3.2 million doses of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2021/01/08/butantan-institute-files-for-coronavac-emergency-approval/">CoronaVac vaccine</a> to begin a local immunization campaign on January 25 — on the same day as the state of São Paulo.</p> <h2>Average of new deaths continues to rise</h2> <p>While the occupancy rates of public ICU beds in the state of São Paulo are less dramatic (65 percent), the daily average of coronavirus deaths has increased 61 percent over the last two weeks. Over 48,000 people have died in what is Brazil&#8217;s most populous state and Covid-19 epicenter.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641192"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641109"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>Last week, the São Paulo state government altered the requirements of its reopening plan, reclassifying four regions in the so-called &#8220;orange phase&#8221; — the second most severe phase — but adopting more permissive measures for economic activities in this classification.</p> <p>In <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/07/13/hit-hard-by-covid-19-minas-gerais-still-awaiting-medical-inputs/">Minas Gerais</a> — Brazil&#8217;s second wealthiest and most populous state — the outlook is very bleak indeed. Over the space of three days last week, Minas broke two Covid-19 infection records. On Wednesday, the state saw the highest number of new daily cases registered since the beginning of the pandemic (7,715), before the situation got even worse on Friday, with 7,812 new infections in the space of 24 hours.</p> <p>With Monday&#8217;s lockdown in state capital Belo Horizonte, ICU beds in the city are 85.1 percent full, while infirmaries have reached 62.5 percent occupancy. Belo Horizonte has recorded a total of 66,916 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with almost 2,000 deaths.</p> <p>Non-essential commerce in the city has been open since August 6, when Belo Horizonte&#8217;s first reopening phase was put into practice. Soon after, shopping malls, hairdressers, gyms, bars, and restaurants were once again able to welcome customers. Now, however, the city has gone back to square one.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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