Despite a record number of new coronavirus cases reported in Brazil this week, Sao Paulo –the largest city in South America and home to Brazil's financial hub– will allow shops and malls to reopen after two months of loosely enforced quarantine.
Mayor Bruno Covas announced the plan on Thursday, a day after the state's government issued guidelines for cities to reopen. The restart comes even as numbers continue to show the state as the hardest-hit by the pandemic, with about 20% of the infections reported in Brazil.
The state government has divided the region into roughly 20 so-called health areas and assigned grades to each, ranging from one to five - level one signifying the need for the tightest restrictions, and level five the least.
The criteria used included occupation of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in percentage terms and per 100,000 inhabitants, number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19. Cities can progress through the stages if the indicators hold for two weeks.
Sao Paulo is on level two, which allows offices, shops, malls, car dealerships and real estate to reopen by Monday with some restrictions.
According to Mr Covas, the city has met all the state's criteria to move forward on relaxing restrictions. He also said City Hall is adding 1,550 ICU beds, which will help relieve the pressure on the city's hospital ICUs, now operating at over 90% capacity.
Mr Covas warned that the reopening will come only after protocols on cleaning and testing have been established by the local health sanitation agency.
City Hall will begin receiving the details, which should also include rules for inspection and communication of the measures, from sector associations and entities on Monday, he said.
If the numbers worsen, we can go back to level one, Mr Covas said in a press conference.
Sao Paulo has been the epicenter of Brazil's coronavirus pandemic, home to the first infection reported in the region and one of the first local governments to announce restrictive measures.
The state accounted for almost 70% of the country's cases in mid-March, and 70% of deaths in early April. It now has about 95,000 cases, but says the number would have been 950,000 without social isolation measures. Brazil now has over 438,000 cases and over 26,000 deaths.
The mega-city had been facing growing pressure to reopen businesses, with two months of loosely enforced quarantine taking a toll on the economy. Support for social isolation measures had been falling, as had compliance with the restrictions.
Brazil's scatter-shot response has complicated efforts to fight the disease, making the country a hot spot for the coronavirus, second only to the United States in number of cases.
Restricted at first to rich neighbourhoods and cities in close contact with international travellers, the virus has migrated to poorer regions and also inland. A UBS report published on Wednesday said that total deaths are increasing in 21 of Brazil's 27 states.
There are only four areas across the state of Sao Paulo that are on level three, which allows beauty salons, barber shops, bars and restaurants to resume operations, and none on levels four or five of the plan, which further loosens restrictions. The state, home to some 46 million people, accounts for about a third of the Brazilian economy.