June 5, 2020 / 12:16 AM / a month ago

Rio looks to reopen as Brazil approaches Italy in coronavirus deaths

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 4 (Reuters) - The mayor of Rio de Janeiro allowed more than 10,000 street vendors to go back to work on Thursday and Brazil’s president pressed for legal action to force local governments to reopen beaches, as the coronavirus death toll in the country quickly approached that of Italy.

Latin America as a whole has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. While a few other nations in the region have been hit harder in per capita terms, Brazil has by far the most confirmed cases and deaths, with 584,016 cases and 32,548 deaths as of Wednesday night, with its death toll ranking only below the United States, Britain and Italy.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the virus, saying on Tuesday that death is “everyone’s destiny,” and that hunger and unemployment will ultimately prove more deadly.

Among his allies is Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella, who has also pushed for a reopening in recent weeks after over local governments shutdown business to stem the spread. On Tuesday, the city of nearly 7 million people allowed Cariocas, as residents are known, to exercise outside, while a small subset of shops was allowed to reopen.

On Thursday, Crivella said over 10,000 street vendors could return to work.

“The other day, some kid told me: I prefer to die of coronavirus than see my family die of hunger,” Crivella told journalists.

Later in the day, during a Facebook Live session, Bolsonaro encouraged the federal solicitor general to sue states to force them into reopening their beaches.

While state governors and leaders elsewhere in the region have generally taken the virus more seriously than Bolsonaro, growing hunger and shaky public finances are pushing leaders throughout Latin America to reopen commerce, to the chagrin of many epidemiologists.

In Brazil, health officials say there are indications new hospitalizations are stabilizing, but new deaths and confirmed cases are still growing rapidly.

On Wednesday, the country reported 1,349 deaths from the coronavirus, its second consecutive daily record. (Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Gram Slattery; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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