June 10, 2020 / 8:18 PM / 25 days ago

Brazil's biggest cities start reopening as COVID-19 surges

An employee checks the temperature of a woman as people queue to enter a shop as the city hall eases restrictions on the first day of open commerce since the beginning of quarantine due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 10, 2020. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil’s most populous state Sao Paulo reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths for the second day running on Wednesday even as its homonymous metropolis allowed shops to resume business and prepared to reopen its malls.

The state, the epicenter of the pandemic in Brazil, recorded 340 new deaths in the last 24 hours, raising its confirmed death toll to 9,862, a fourth of the country’s total fatalities, the governor’s office said.

That did not stop shoppers flocking to the 25 de Março shopping district in Sao Paulo city, where around half of the businesses were open on Wednesday. Although stores considered essential, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, have remained open, most shops in Sao Paulo have been shut since March.

Shoppers packed the streets. Stores allowed in only people wearing masks and provided alcohol gel. Some took the temperature of shoppers at the entrance.

“I’m afraid because the virus is growing, but at the same time we have to go to work and buy things to sell, though always protected by a mask,” said Vanessa Pereira, a saleswoman.

The city’s malls will reopen on Thursday for four hours a day after agreeing with authorities on reducing public access as a precaution against the contagion.

In Rio de Janeiro, the second hardest hit Brazilian city, the mayor announced malls will also reopen on Thursday as part of a scheduled easing of restrictions.

The decisions to reopen shops has been advocated by Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro who has minimized the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak and dismissed warnings by public health experts that the contagion is still surging.

Brazil has 772,416 confirmed cases of infection, as the world’s worst outbreak after the United States continues to surge. At least 39,680 people have died, the third highest death toll after the United States and Britain.

Reporting by Eduardo Simoes and Pablo Garcia in Sao Paulo and Rodrigo Viga in Rio; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Tom Brown

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