Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
16 September 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 1:41pm

Thousands of deaths overlooked as Rio de Janeiro’s streets and beaches reopen

The city’s infection rates are among the worst in Brazil. But in June its mayor, Marcelo Crivella, said that it should return to normal – and many are embracing the new freedoms. 

By Carlos Tautz

Rio de Janeiro’s businesses, public spaces and 70km of beaches are still under formal restrictions. The city’s infection rates, after all, are among the worst in Brazil. But in June its mayor, Marcelo Crivella, said that it should return to normal.

People in Rio have come to refer to it as “liberou geral” – “general [uncontrolled] opening”. Although this liberou geral scares some people, many in Rio, a city of economic extremes, have no alternative but to go along with it. “We are afraid, but we have to reopen, or we die of hunger,” a bar owner in the bohemian district of Santa Teresa tells me. “If there is, as they say, a second wave of coronavirus and we are forced to close again, there will be no way out. We will go bankrupt.”

Others embrace the new freedoms, indifferent to their fellow citizens’ safety. Rules on masks, sanitisation of surfaces and temperature checks are widely flouted as the city’s streets, bars and Copacabana fill up again. This angers those concerned about the virus. “I stay at home and leave only in situations of absolute need, but I recognise that this is not the practice of most people,” says Carlos Mauro, an industrial chemist. “The street markets are running at full steam, the malls open at restricted hours but are as full as usual, and I often see parties and other free gatherings.”

Presiding over the national liberou geral is Jair Bolsonaro. Brazil’s hard-right president dismisses the virus as a “gripezinha” or “little flu”, has promoted the quack cure of hydroxychloriquine, and conspicuously ignores social distancing norms. Unsurprisingly, the president and one of his children have had the virus. Both recovered. Many Brazilians have not been so lucky.

Officially 130,000 people here have died from the “little flu”, some 10,000 of them in Rio. The real figures for both deaths and infections may be much higher. The laxity of the official response has not even served to spare Brazil the worst of the economic fallout. Unemployment has risen to 13 per cent. An economic aid programme to the needy, which Congress forced Bolsonaro to implement, has been extended, but its future is uncertain.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

And all the while the president’s lifting of conservation restrictions and green light to commercial miners on indigenous land mean this summer is likely to be a record “burning season” in the Amazon. The people suffer and die, and the forests burn. It is a sad time to be a Brazilian.

Content from our partners
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023
You wouldn’t give your house keys to anyone, so why do that with your computers?

Read the rest of the “Postcards from Planet Covid” series here

This article appears in the 16 Sep 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Planet Covid