With megaphones, Rio beach-goers ordered to go home

Rio state Governor Wilson Witzel admits ordering people off the beach was ‘heresy’ in one of the world’s most famous beach cities. (AFP pic)

RIO DE JANEIRO: Anyone hoping to escape wall-to-wall Covid-19 coverage with a day at the beach can forget about it in Rio de Janeiro, where authorities armed with megaphones blared out messages Monday ordering everyone home.

Authorities also closed the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and the cable car that takes sightseers to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, two of Rio’s most famous attractions.

Rio state Governor Wilson Witzel had warned residents to stay away from the waterfront in order to help contain the pandemic, in a video message Friday in which he announced the closure of schools, cinemas, theatres and large events for at least two weeks.

He admitted ordering people off the sand was “heresy” in one of the world’s most famous beach cities but insisted he was ready to deploy the military police to implement the measures if necessary.

After a hot, sunny weekend during which locals and tourists filled Copacabana, Ipanema and the city’s other legendary beaches anyway, state authorities cracked down, deploying firefighters to transmit what amounted to a very stern request.

At beach after beach, bright red trucks rolled up and loudly blared their sirens – startling small crowds of Monday-morning sun-seekers gazing languidly at the horizon of turquoise waters dotted by green mountains.

“The Civil Defence Authority asks the population not to gather on the beach. Please, for your own safety and that of your neighbours, friends and families, go home,” said the message, blared out on a megaphone.

“Do your part to help prevent and contain coronavirus.”

Rio has confirmed 31 cases of the new coronavirus so far, and there are 234 across Brazil. The country has reported no deaths yet.

Health officials are working to convince the population to take the threat seriously, with mixed success.

President Jair Bolsonaro drew criticism Sunday for shaking hands and taking selfies with supporters at a rally.

The far-right leader’s own health ministry had recommended he remain in isolation for two weeks after being exposed to several officials who tested positive for Covid-19.