Many Brazilians disregard the pleas to stay at home

RIO DE JANEIRO — Authorities in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro begged the population to stay home, but thousands of Brazilians are traveling to coastal cities and ignoring recommendations on the first weekend of a 10-day holiday period decreed to contain the increase in COVID-19 infections in the country.

Some residents are clearing out and taking advantage of the holidays, despite warnings from authorities. Brazil’s two biggest cities, Rio and Sao Paulo, have imposed extensive restrictions on nonessential activities. Their state authorities brought forward holidays to create a 10-day break period, which started Friday.

Many scenes in Brazilian cities show the difficulty that authorities are facing in enlisting the cooperation of the population to contain the spread of the virus.

In Sao Sebastiao, a city of more than 80,000 inhabitants on the Sao Paulo coast, tourists destroyed barriers installed at the access to beaches to avoid crowds, according to local reports. The city is one of those that suffered an invasion of tourists who took advantage of the holidays decreed by the state government.

“Don’t come to the coast. We depend on tourism, but right now we depend on health. We need to avoid an even bigger collapse,” said the city’s mayor, Felipe Augusto, angered by the acts of vandalism.

In Ubatuba, another of the main cities on the Sao Paulo coast, residents burned tires on a road to try to prevent an influx of visitors.

Restrictions on activity implemented last year were half-hearted and sabotaged by President Jair Bolsonaro, who sought to stave off economic doom. He remains unconvinced of any need for clampdown, fearful that the damage to the economy could generate more unemployment and social chaos.

Brazil currently accounts for one-quarter of the entire world’s daily COVID-19 deaths, far more than any other single nation, and health experts are warning that the nation is on the verge of even greater calamity. The nation’s seven-day average of 2,500 deaths stands to reach to 3,000 within weeks, experts told the Associated Press.

The health system is already buckling, with almost all states’ intensive care units near or at capacity. On Sunday 92.6% of ICU beds were occupied in Sao Paulo, while Rio state had an occupancy of 92%.

Rio city authorities closed 19 stores and fined 60 bars, restaurants and street vendors on Saturday for breaking rules that prohibited their operation, the mayor’s press office confirmed to The Associated Press. On the city beaches, some people ignored the new rules and stayed on the sand.