SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Police broke up an illegal party with nearly 600 people in a windowless Sao Paulo nightclub in the early hours of Saturday, highlighting defiance of social distancing rules that has made the country’s outbreak the world’s deadliest at the moment.
COVID-19 killed 12,000 Brazilians over the past week, more than any other country. With 275,000 lives lost in total, Brazil’s death toll lags only the United States, where the epidemic is slowing dramatically.
Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria is among the state and municipal authorities ratcheting up restrictions as Brazil’s outbreak surges to record levels, fueled by more contagious local variants. However, many Brazilians still defy the measures, encouraged by President Jair Bolsonaro, who rails against lockdowns as job-killing and unnecessary.
Sao Paulo officials have taken increasingly dramatic steps to show they mean business, including reinforced ‘blitzes’ to suppress the city’s famous nightlife.
With axes and assault rifles, police officers broke down the door of the nightclub in the city’s Capao Redondo district, piercing the darkness with lights on their guns. Hundreds of young partiers, few of them masked, cowered on the dance floor as police silenced the music and arrested organizers.
“I could never imagine hundreds and hundreds of people in a place without a single window, with all the doors closed,” said Eduardo Brotero, the police officer who ran the operation.
Jefferson dos Santos, one of the revelers forced to leave the party, voiced his disagreement with the operation: “We pay taxes and we know the risks, we may get sick or infect our family. But we need to do something in life.”
Consumer defense agency Procon-SP said it had fined some 100 establishments for violating the latest restrictions. Carlos Cesar Marera, enforcement director at Procon-SP said the city’s clandestine parties are organized over the internet.
“These young people, usually 18 to 23 years old, gather in these parties with no social distancing at a time when thousands of people are dying.”
(Reporting by Leonardo Benassato in Sao Paulo; Writing by Tatiana Bautzer; Editing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell)