Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles accompanied by authorities cuts a ribbon during the reopening ceremony of the Christ the Redeemer statue due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 15, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
Major tourist sites in Rio de Janeiro, including the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the Brazilian city, reopened to the public on Saturday after being closed for five months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"The reopening of the Christ (monument) symbolizes the reopening of Brazil to tourism," Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said at a ceremony at the base of the statue.
Visitors will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, and will not be allowed to lie on the ground -- as many do in attempting to get the best angle for photos at the feet of the huge Art Deco statue with its arms outstretched.
Located atop 710-meter-high (2,300-feet) Corcovado hill in the center of Rio in Tijuca national park, the monument offers a spectacular panoramic view of the city and its environs.
Since social-distancing measures forced its closure in March, Christ the Redeemer has continued to function as a religious sanctuary, offering public masses and holding vigils to honor healthcare workers and victims of the pandemic.
Also reopening to the public on Saturday were the Pao de Acucar cable car, which offers its own panoramic view of the city, the AquaRio aquarium and the gigantic Rio Star, Latin America's largest Ferris wheel, inaugurated only last year in the port area.
Brazil's National Confederation of Goods, Services and Tourism (CNC) estimates that the country's tourism sector has lost 154 billion reales ($28.4 billion) over the last five months, operating at only 14 percent of its capacity.
The state of Rio de Janeiro, with 17 million inhabitants, has registered more than 14,500 deaths and nearly 190,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, according to official statistics.
The capital itself, which in June began a gradual economic reopening, has seen 33 deaths and 1,365 new cases in just the last 24 hours.
Brazil, with 106,500 deaths and 3.2 million cases to date, is the second hardest-hit country in the world, after the US.
With no certainty about when a vaccine might be available, Rio authorities have announced a new format for the year-end celebrations that traditionally bring millions of people to Copacabana beach for a huge fireworks display.
This year, the authorities are working to organize a series of smaller celebrations around the city and are urging people to watch the events online.
Rio's world-famous carnival, with its huge street parties, also risks being canceled by the pandemic.