Bolsonaro allows Brazilians to go to the gym as coronavirus cases surge

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro declared on Monday gyms and hair salons as important services that may remain open during the new coronavirus outbreak to simplify disease-fighting efforts despite new cases and deaths in the country.

An agent checks the temperature of a driver at the entrance to the city of Niteroi on the first day of his closure while coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 11, 2020. REUTERS / Ricardo Moraes

Brazil has now registered a total of 168,331 confirmed cases of the virus and is approaching the number of cases in Germany and France in which the outbreak has slowed. So far, Brazil has confirmed 11,519 deaths from the disease.

The president has argued that state and local governments have gone overboard on social isolation measures to limit the spread of the disease and that it is doing excessive damage to the economy.

"The question of life has to be asked alongside the jobs," Bolsonaro told reporters outside of his official residence. "Without the economy there is no life, there are no doctors, there is no hospital care."

Bolsonaro's latest decree, which leaves more facilities open, was released, according to the Ministry of Health, when Brazil registered 5,632 new coronavirus cases and 396 deaths from the disease on Monday.

The reporting of coronavirus cases to the ministry by state health authorities tends to slow down over the weekend. On Monday, the ministry revised Sunday's virus count to 12,392 new cases and 892 deaths, the country's worst daily count to date.

After initially deciding that facilities such as pharmacies and grocery stores were essential, Bolsonaro later expanded this list to include lotteries and churches.

This third decree further expands the list of key business areas and extends it to industrial production and civil construction, with Bolsonaro promising further relaxation.

Health Minister Nelson Teich said on Monday a briefing that the ministry had not been consulted about Bolsonaro's decision to allow gyms and beauty salons to reopen.

The ministry also said in a statement that it had issued guidelines to governmental and local authorities on the range of social distance standards, from strict to casual, and that the final decision rests with local governments.

"It is the responsibility of local health authorities to take or relax non-pharma-logical measures," it said.

Global automaker Fiat Chrysler announced on Monday that production in three factories in Brazil would gradually resume. More than half of the country's approximately 10,000 employees are already returning to work.

The plants have been shut down for 48 days, Fiat Chrysler said in a statement. The first task was to train employees in new health precautions.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Gabriel Araujo in Sao Paulo; Writing by Jake Spring; Edited by Chris Reese and Sonya Hepinstall

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