Rio de Janeiro (CNN) – For the first time that day, Miguel Oliveira firmly pressed limes and sugar in the cocktail shaker. It is noon, and this, together with the sparsely populated promenade where his kiosk bar is located, is only a sign that something is wrong in Rio de Janeiro.
“It has never been so bad,” he sighs. “We are open to see if we can sell anything – being closed is worse.” He doubts that the business will get better soon. The only bright spot is that “at least the rent will be postponed to next year”.
Miguel Oliveira waited until noon to get his first cocktail order of the day.
Jo Shelley / CNN
Four years ago, I last saw the beach in the heart of Rio’s Olympic dream. Bars couldn’t find a place for you; Every inch of the coast was overbooked. Swimwear and disregard for time or worries were mandatory. Even the strong police presence didn’t stop the dance.
The beach is now closed. Face masks are mandatory. The shops, restaurants, bars – and most beach kiosks except Miguel’s – are closed. Covid-19 released the copacabana police. Even the music is quiet, replaced by police sirens warning the hesitant locals to leave the beach.
The most famous beach in the world is emptied by rules designed to stop the spread of the corona virus.
Jo Shelley / CNN
The Maritime Firemen Brigade – a mix of firefighters and lifeguards – is slowly driving along the beach, with its speakers expressing people’s demand to leave the sand. Lieutenant Colonel Fernando Melo said the majority of people stick to the beach closure, but consistently walk or gather a figure or two along the coast without knowing why the sand is so unusually empty.
“In the beginning, when people didn’t believe Corona, we had gatherings at the kiosks, parties at night,” said Melo. “The schools were closed so people could get on the sand with their children.”
Now it’s better – but the joggers, hikers and dogs line the sidewalk. However, one group is missing: tourists. Foreigners are temporarily prohibited from entering Brazil. (CNN was granted entry for reporting by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
Lieutenant Colonel Fernando Melo patrols with other firefighters and lifeguards on the beaches and asks everyone to go.
Jo Shelley / CNN
Locals find it difficult to walk in a mask. Ronaldo Nussbaum is mask-free when jogging every day. He said he had asthma and needed to take a breath. “Some days they have a lot of people, but today it’s fine.”
“He said a lot of things that I don’t like. But I only voted for him. My mother, she loves him. He can say bad words but I can’t,” he laughed.
A picture from June 2019 shows the more common scene of a crowded Copacabana beach.
Mauro Pimentel / AFP / Getty Images
Nussbaum reflects a changing public opinion of the president, who, according to recent surveys, now has a disapproval rate of 50%. I ask if he will vote for him again? “I’m not sure,” he said.
Sometimes volleyball games go on unabated. Runners and surfers keep going. The police drive off-road vehicles on the sand and wave people away, but they quickly return. The homeless stand out in the sand and in the occasionally deserted streets: loud and lonely in this new landscape. The Belmont Hotel, an icon on this beach, has closed for the first time in 97 years.
The rhythm that defines the copacabana has stopped, and the fear that grows here – among companies and even locals who enjoy the space for a moment – is when and if it will return and whether it will be at the same joyful pace as will be before.