The numbers of beachgoers in Rio de Janeiro dropped significantly since the state governor deployed Civil Defense workers with megaphones to urge people to stay away. Credit: Luxury Travel Advisor.

Empty beaches seem unthinkable in the year-round sun of Rio De Janeiro.

But starting today, Rio’s iconic Ipanema and Copacabana beaches will be off-limits to sun seekers by decree from state governor Wilson Witzel, Channel News Asia reported.

The numbers of beachgoers have dropped significantly in the last week after Witzel deployed Civil Defense workers with megaphones to urge people to stay away, the report said.

Street vendor Jorge Martins, who plods the fine sand of Ipanema, tried to sell the last of his popular caipirinha cocktails to tourists before Rio’s beaches shut down against the coronavirus, the report said.

“As long as I can, I will continue to come here and try to sell cocktails. I still have not thought about what I will do when it is no longer possible,” Martins told AFP.

For people like him who depend on informal work for their livelihood, with no social welfare safety net, the federal government announced a monthly allowance of 200 reals (about US$40) until the end of the crisis, the report said.

But that’s just one-fifth of the minimum wage.

“What am I going to do with that? That’s barely enough to buy bread,” said Martins, who has spent the last 32 of his 55 years working on the beach.

According to the latest official statistics, compiled before the pandemic, nearly 12 million Brazilians are unemployed, more than 11% of the country’s population of 210 million, the reoprt said.

And about 40% of the working population work in the informal sector.

Ze Joaquim Assis runs a kiosk on Copacabana beach where he rents out sun loungers and parasols.

For him, 200 reals “is better than nothing, but I earn it in one day by working here in normal times.”

His sales have crashed this week, after authorities announced the first restrictive measures, the report said.

Rio’s Hoteliers Association says occupancy plunged 70% to just 15% this week, after authorities closed the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and the cable car that takes sightseers to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain — two of Rio’s most famous attractions.

The health ministry says the country has 621 infections with six deaths. Two of the deaths have occurred in Rio, the second most affected area after Sao Paulo, the report said.

After this weekend, Brazil will follow the lead of other nations by closing its borders to nationals from Europe, Australia and several Asian countries.