Coronavirus outbreak threatens Rio's beloved beach days

FILE PHOTO: People gather in Ipanema beach one day after Brazilian authorities announced measures on coronavirus outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes reuters_tickers
This content was published on March 16, 2020 - 21:45

By Gabriel Stargardter

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Mondays are usually slow on Rio de Janeiro's iconic Ipanema beach, but Ana Nunes, who rents parasols and chairs there, said business was down 80% due to the coronavirus outbreak that has prompted authorities to warn against gathering in crowded areas.

Nunes, who reluctantly said she was 52 but normally tells people she is "immortal," said she had no option but to work.

"This is my only source of income," she said. "Are we going to lose money? Sure. As long as there is no order against it, I will come to work. But I know I'm putting myself at risk."

The coronavirus outbreak, which has spread fear across the world, pummeling markets and pushing governments into extreme measures to contain the spread and prop up economies, is also threatening the beloved Rio beach day.

Rio state Governor Wilson Witzel said on Monday he would announce a state of emergency, without giving details on when, and what that would entail. He has urged people to avoid large public gatherings and said he could close beaches.

On Monday, firemen were patrolling some Rio beaches, blaring guidance on loudspeakers for beachgoers to go home.

That struck fear in the hearts of some Rio beach workers.

Many are informal workers from poor communities, dependant on good weather and tourists' whims. A few years ago, Nunes said she could make 2,500 reais ($500) on a sunny Saturday. These days, she is lucky to make 800 reais in a day, and the outbreak could force her to close shop.

Working nearby, Paloma Nascimento, who won her stall licence when she came out of prison in a program to reintegrate former inmates, said she pays Rio city hall 400 reais a year for the concession. She said she would follow any closure order, but it would devastate her business.

"I'm scared because I live off this," she said, adding that she employed three other people. "If I don't work, I don't eat."

Nunes said tempers were starting to flare amid a price war between beach stands. She was selling coconuts, which normally go for 8 reais, at 5 reais, while her neighbour was annoyed at having to rent a big parasol, usually priced at 30 reais, for 10 reais.

"Soon there will be fights," she said.

Her customer, 40-year-old hairdresser Tanny Nunes, was making the most of her day off, sunning herself during what she expected would be one of her final days in the sun for a while.

But she said she wasn't too concerned: "There'll be sun next year, right?"

(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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