With megaphones, Brazil orders Rio beach-goers home

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Anyone hoping to escape wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage with a day at the beach can forget about that in Rio de Janeiro, where authorities armed with megaphones blared out messages Monday ordering everyone home.

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

He admitted ordering people off the shoreline 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 measure if necessary.

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

At beach after beach, trucks rolled up and loudly blared their sirens -- startling small crowds of Monday-morning sunseekers gazing languidly at the city's iconic horizon of turquoise waters dotted by green mountains.

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

"Do your part to help prevent and contain coronavirus."

Media reports said the authorities deployed 150 trucks for the operation.

Witzel said he hoped he would not have to wage an all-out beach crack-down.

"I don't want to have to grab people, twist their arms and drag them home. I don't think that will be necessary," he said Sunday.

Rio has confirmed 24 cases of the new coronavirus so far, and there are 200 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.