By Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The famous beaches in Brazil's tourist hot spot of Rio de Janeiro will only reopen officially for sun bathers and swimmers once there is a vaccine for COVID-19, Mayor Marcelo Crivella said on Thursday.
Currently, the city of Rio's beaches are open for exercise and water sports, although casual beachgoers regularly break those rules to pack the sand on recent weekends, with many not using masks or following social distancing guidelines.
"Where you can't use masks, the inclination is to only return when there is a vaccine, which is being tested, or when contamination is close to zero," Crivella told reporters.
"On the beach, you don't use a mask and the level of infection goes up."
Brazil is the second-worst-hit country by the novel coronavirus pandemic after the United States, with more than 1.6 million cases of the disease. Rio de Janeiro state has the second-highest death toll in Brazil, with nearly 11,000 people killed.
Many parts of Brazil have begun reopening certain segments of society despite tallying tens of thousands of new cases of the disease a day.
Last week, Rio city allowed bars and restaurants to reopen, leading to crowds at some establishments despite mandated capacity limits and hygiene measures.
Crivella said on Thursday that he had backed off from the idea of allowing fans to attend football games in stadiums.
Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has railed against state and local stay-at-home orders, saying the damage to Brazil's economy is worse than the virus itself.
Rio is Brazil's tourist magnet, thanks largely to its beaches, beautiful landscape and free-wheeling lifestyle. Tourism accounts for a major portion of the city's economy.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier, writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)