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Rio de Janeiro extends coronavirus confinement

Rio de Janeiro's Governor Wilson Witzel, pictured in 2019, has recommended that people stay off the beach
Rio de Janeiro's Governor Wilson Witzel, pictured in 2019, has recommended that people stay off the beach MAURO PIMENTEL AFP/File
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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Rio de Janeiro state said Thursday it would extend stay-at-home orders to fight the coronavirus until May 11, as Brazil braces for the biggest outbreak in Latin America to get far worse.

Defying far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is urging state and local authorities to get Brazilians back to work, Rio Governor Wilson Witzel extended the closure of schools and non-essential businesses in a bid to safeguard a hospital network that is already stretched thin.

Rio de Janeiro city, the state capital famous for its beaches, natural beauty and nightlife, extended its own stay-at-home orders until May 15.

Rio state is the second hardest hit in Brazil by the new coronavirus, after the industrial hub of Sao Paulo.

Home to 17 million people, it has officially registered 794 deaths and 8,869 cases so far. The worst of the crisis is expected around mid-May.

Brazil as a whole has registered 5,466 deaths and 78,162 cases, though experts say under-testing means the real figures could be much higher.

"Given the issue of under-reporting, we probably have around 140,000 people infected today in Rio state, 15 to 20 times the official number," state Health Secretary Edmar Santos told TV Globo.

He warned the state could face the collapse of its health system in three to four weeks, with demand for intensive care beds on a scale even greater than the hardest-hit areas in the United States, Italy and Spain.

He predicted around 7,000 people could need treatment in ICUs, but said the maximum number of beds officials would be able to provide was less than half that.

Rio state first declared a stay-at-home in late March.

The measure has had mixed success. There is far less traffic in the streets, but many residents have lately been venturing outdoors and defying Witzel's recommendation to stay off the beach.

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