SAO PAULO – Retail shops reopened on Wednesday after a two-month pandemic shutdown in Brazil's biggest city, leading to crowded buses and subways from early in the day — and with many people ignoring social distancing rules. Sao Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas authorized the restart of commerce between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. as long as shops require customers to use masks and limit those allowed inside. Stores in malls, however, remain closed until Thursday.
Brazil is among the Latin American countries hit hardest by the pandemic, with about 39,000 deaths according to official figures. Sao Paulo state is approaching 10,000 deaths from COVID-19, with about half of those in the metropolis of 12 million residents. On Wednesday, the state reported a record 24-hour increase to its death toll, 340 people — surpassing a record set just the previous day.
Sao Paulo city has seen a slight decrease in its intensive-care unit bed occupancy rate, to around 70%. But many health specialists advised against the reopening, saying contagion is still growing in the city, though at a slower rate.
As the day began, many commuters headed back to jobs unmasked, ignoring Covas' order that only those wearing masks be allowed in buses and other public transport.
Sao Paulo's City Hall said that 92% of the almost 12,000 available buses were circulating Wednesday, up from 85% the prior day.
On 25 de Março street, where people from all over Brazil flock to buy cheap items, there was no sign of authorities trying to enforce social distancing rules, which were largely unheeded. Customers had their temperature measured and received hand sanitizer at the entrance of some shops, though.
Milla Martins, manager of a wig store in the region, was glad to return to work. “As big as our fear can be, we cannot bear this situation. I know our enemy is invisible, but we need to face it,” she said inside her store.
Street vendors remained forbidden, but dozens flouted that restriction in the Bras district, selling clothing on the sidewalk.