SAO PAULO – No late risers were bothered by traffic noise or the calls of street vendors in Sao Paulo on Tuesday, the start of a 15-day, coronavirus-triggered shutdown that encompasses South America’s largest city and all of Sao Paulo state, home to 46 million inhabitants.
City buses circulating on this metropolis’ iconic Paulista Avenue were practically empty, while the typical flood of people pouring out of metro stations has dwindled to a trickle.
Nearly all shops in Brazil’s wealthiest state are closed minus those selling essential goods, with would-be customers greeted only by the graffiti covering their metal shutters.
Ibirapuera Park, considered Sao Paulo’s green lung, also was nearly vacant on Tuesday, although a handful of joggers could be seen around its perimeter.
The lockdown was decreed by the state government until April 7, but it could be prolonged further amid the rapid growth in Covid-19 cases.
Sao Paulo is the hardest-hit Brazilian state, accounting for about 800 of the more than 2,000 confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide and 30 of the 34 deaths tallied as of Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m convinced that people can understand how serious this moment is,” Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria told reporters, temporarily ruling out road closures due to the risk of a complete economic collapse.
Sao Paulo is a pioneer in Brazil in terms of placing its entire population in quarantine, although Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has slammed the response as bordering on hysterical.
Rio de Janeiro, the second most-affected Brazilian state with around 250 confirmed Covid-19 cases and four deaths, has taken restrictive measures but has not yet ordered citizens to confine themselves to their homes. Even so, the country’s tourist capital has shut down almost completely.
Katia Cicarelli, a 45-year dog walker in Sao Paulo, holds three pugs on a leash. Although she is not wearing a mask, she describes the coronavirus as “something very serious.”
She said she has lost two customers who do not want anyone entering their homes and has reduced walk times from an hour to 30 minutes as a precautionary measure.
Small shops are persevering as best they can despite a drastic drop in sales. Jonathan Chang, 30, manages one of these stores in Liberdade neighborhood, home to much of Sao Paulo’s Japanese community.
Chang also has struggled with Internet rumors indicating that some of his salespeople have contracted Covid-19. “There’s always someone who doesn’t like us,” he said with resignation in his voice.
Several groups of homeless people also continue to live on the street despite the coronavirus fears, their worries more centered on where their next meal is coming from.
Nadia da Silva, 30, sleeps with a cat and a dog in a square in downtown Sao Paulo.
“We’re worried because with everything closed we have nothing to eat,” she told EFE. Da Silva and a friend are able to get water from the owner of a nearby parking lot. “But it’s only open until midday,” she said.
The Sao Paulo mayor’s office told EFE that it has stepped up aid to homeless people, adding that if any of these individuals develops a symptom of the disease they will taken to an outpatient center.
Housing at a municipal shelter also is being offered to the homeless population, although Da Silva said no one from the mayor’s office has approached her in that regard.