February 12, 2020 / 10:35 PM / 2 months ago

Rio braces for coronavirus risk during Carnival party

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Preparing for Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, when well over 1 million visitors pour into the “Marvelous City” for round-the-clock revelry, is always a daunting task for city officials.

People dance during the opening show of the pre-carnival of Rio de Janeiro 2020, at the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ian Cheibub

But this year, the job is just a little bit tougher thanks to the new coronavirus that had spread to some 25 countries with the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China.

In the days leading up to Carnival, which falls Feb. 21 to Feb. 26 this year, Rio officials have been setting up a “city contingency plan,” and training health workers in the metropolis of nearly 7 million people how to identify and contain the new threat.

“It’s worrying because there a lot of people moving around and a lot of tourists coming into the country from all parts of the world,” Patricia Guttman, a municipal health official, told Reuters.

Guttman said the city had freed up some 120 hospital beds that could be used for suspected coronavirus patients.

During Carnival, hundreds of thousands of visitors parade through the sweltering seaside streets of Rio. In practice, many of the celebrations often include a dearth of clothing and a surplus of alcohol, creating a ripe environment for contagious disease.

So far, South America has not had any confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. Thirty four Brazilians evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, are being held in quarantine at a military base.

On Wednesday, Rio health workers received training on how to identify a potential carrier of the virus. They also practiced quickly applying face masks to potential patients, while themselves slipping into protective plastic suits.

City officials insist they are prepared.

“We’re ready for Carnival,” Guttman said.

Reporting by Sergio Queiroz, Writing by Gram Slattery, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Grant McCool

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