Brazil’s most populous state eyes reopening business in June

SAO PAULO (AP) — Sao Paulo state, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil, will reopen some of its closed businesses starting June 1 despite a fast growing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Gov. João Doria said Wednesday that stay-at-home recommendations will remain in effect until June 15 for the state that’s home to 46 million people, but some economic activity will resume in regions where daily increase in cases slow and enough intensive-care beds are available.

The businesses allowed to reopen initially under a five-step plan are stores, shopping malls, offices, car dealerships and real estate brokerages. Social distancing and masks will still be necessary.

More than 6,700 people have died because of the new coronavirus in Sao Paulo state, about one fourth of all Brazil’s deaths. The state also confirmed almost 90,000 COVID-19 cases, while Brazil has nearly 400,000.

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Doria has been frequently singled out for criticism by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has opposed governors’ restrictions on activity and urged his supporters to resume normal life.

The move in Sao Paulo is a sign of Brazil’s ambivalence over whether to open up or impose stricter lockdown. Several cities in the country’s impoverished Northeast region are also planning to reopen after using more restrictive measures.

In the capital of Brasilia, 20 malls and shopping centers were allowed to reopen, but few people showed up at stores.

Brazil’s economy, which was already battered before the coronavirus crisis, lost 1.1 million formal jobs in March and April, a report by the federal government said. The figure is higher than the average monthly job losses recorded during the 2015-16 recession in the South American nation, investment bank Goldman Sachs said.

After Doria’s announcement, Sao Paulo state confirmed 289 deaths in the last 24 hours, the second biggest daily figure on record. The highest was 324 fatalities registered on May 19.

Only two weeks ago, Doria said he was considering a lockdown to stop the spread, a measure that many analysts deemed to be key to stop the virus. On Monday he said it was longer under consideration. Sao Paulo has kept nonessential industries and civil construction open.

“It is a conscious restart of some activities in Sao Paulo state,” the governor said in a press conference alongside members of his anti-coronavirus task force. He added mayors will have the autonomy to implement the suggested changes or not.

Cities of the Sao Paulo metropolitan area and the coast, where contagion is still high, are not yet in a position begin the reopening, the governor said. Any change to Phast 2 will only be allowed if a region or a city remains with stable figures for 14 days, Doria said.

Phase 2 would allow a restart for bars and restaurants and beauty salons.

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