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The viral surge forced Sao Paulo to close when Buenos Aires reopened

SAO PAULO (AP) – The recurrence of the COVID-19 case stops the steps of samba in the largest metropolis in Brazil, while the capital of Argentina returns to the top of the tango floor.

The two largest cities in each of South America’s neighboring countries are heading in opposite directions, reflecting how those who loosen restrictions despite scientists’ warnings see a jump in the pandemic, while others who support social distancing measures can open their economies to -early.

Sao Paulo, home to nearly 12 million people, is preparing for the worst two weeks of the pandemic and the growing risk of its once resilient health system collapsing, Governor Joao Doria told reporters on Wednesday. More than 75% of the city̵

7;s intensive care beds are occupied by patients with COVID-19, and some wards – such as those of the private Albert Einstein Hospital – are full for the first time.

Doria announced that on Saturday, the entire country, home to 46 million people, will face the highest level of restrictions on stopping the spread of the virus. This means the closure of all bars, restaurants, shopping malls and any other establishments considered insignificant until at least 19 March.

Meanwhile, nearly 3 million Buenos Aires residents are enjoying easing their restrictions, with movie theaters coming into force this week. On Wednesday, official data showed that only 26% of intensive care beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19. The low hospitalization rate also allowed local authorities to reopen bars and restaurants by 2 a.m. in mid-February, something long sought after in a city known for its all-day culture.

This means that the famous steakhouses in Buenos Aires are resuming their fires, while colleagues in Sao Paulo are putting out theirs.

Casinos in Buenos Aires also opened in late 2020, and authorities are debating whether the football-crazy city will soon be able to return to its stadiums. In Brazil, despite pressure from Bolsonaro to return fans, none of the local authorities are seriously considering opening stadiums. The 48,000-seat NeoQuimica arena in eastern Sao Paulo is used as a vaccination point.

Some good news from the Sao Paulo region came on Tuesday when football player Pele received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The 80-year-old posted the news on his social media channels.

“The pandemic is not over yet. We have to be disciplined to save our lives until many people get the vaccine, ”said the three-time World Cup winner. “When you go out, don’t forget your mask and keep a social distance.”

His plea is important – even a year after the pandemic began – as Bolsonaro continues to question the effectiveness of the masks.

The distance between the two nations seems to have widened during the pandemic, with Bolsonaro and Argentine Alberto Fernandez taking opposite directions in tackling the crisis. The former downplayed the risks of the disease and urged the economy to move, while the latter took a more cautious approach.

Fernandez imposed one of the longest quarantines in the world between March and October, despite the risks of damaging an economy already in recession.

Last week, Brazil registered 35 COVID-19 deaths per million inhabitants, almost tripled Argentina’s.

Problems in Sao Paulo have worsened since covert carnival celebrations in mid-February. Although street festivities and parades were canceled, many Paulists, as residents are known, traveled or joined unmasked gatherings. The city refused to allow weekends, traditionally allowed during the carnival, in an attempt to prevent people from partying.

Isidoro Silveira, 34, received a waiting table at a pizzeria in downtown Sao Paulo two months ago after being unemployed for almost a year. He is upset by the impending closure of his restaurant.

“Those who make deliveries will not be hurt, but I and many others will,” Silveira said anxiously as she watched television news of the shutdown. “I don’t know what to say to my wife and daughter. I am afraid that I will lose my job again, even though I work in a place that takes all precautions. “

Not far away, the cinemas in the city’s main slide, Paulista Avenue, are empty, just as they had been since the beginning of the pandemic.

The lightness of Argentina does not mean that the virus is completely under control. Official figures Wednesday show 262 deaths and more than 8,700 new infections in the country. The spread of the vaccine is slow. But the overwhelming darkness seen in Sao Paulo seems far from Buenos Aires.

With a bag of popcorn in one hand and a soft drink in the other, 8-year-old Bautista Sundblatt was eager to enter a movie theater in the Tony neighborhood of Palermo in Buenos Aires to watch Bad Boys Forever.

“He’s very excited,” said his mother, Martina. “We have been waiting for a long time. There are few places, everything is taken care of. He is a fanatic of the film. There is still a long way to go, but little by little we are getting where we want to go. “

___Ray reported from Buenos Aires.

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