February 12, 2020 / 10:26 PM / 5 days ago

Rio braces for coronavirus risk during Carnival party

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Preparing for Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, when well over 1 million visitors pour into the “Marvelous City” for round-the-clock revelry, is always a daunting task for city officials.

But this year, the job is just a little bit tougher - thanks to the new coronavirus that had spread to some 25 countries as of Wednesday.

“It’s worrying because there a lot of people moving around and a lot of tourists coming into the country from all parts of the world,” Patricia Guttman, a municipal health official, told Reuters.

Guttman said the city had freed up some 120 hospital beds that could be used for suspected coronavirus patients. Rio is already gearing up for the celebrations, which take place this year between Feb. 21 and Feb. 26.

During Carnival, hundreds of thousands of visitors parade through the sweltering seaside streets of Rio. In practice, many of the celebrations often include a dearth of clothing and a surplus of alcohol, creating a ripe environment for contagious disease.

So far, South America has not had any confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. Thirty four Brazilians evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, are being held in quarantine at a military base.

On Wednesday, Rio health workers received training on how to identify a potential carrier of the virus. They also practiced quickly applying face masks to potential patients, while themselves slipping into protective plastic suits.

City officials insist they are prepared.

“We’re ready for Carnival,” Guttman said.

Reporting by Gram Slattery, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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