Rio relaxes the use of masks as pandemic wanes in Brazil

March 8, 2022 GMT
A woman prays during the celebration of a "liberation and healing" Mass at the Institute of Mary Mystical Rose, in Sao Sebastian, a rural area of Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Hundreds attended the non-carnival event seeking comfort for their afflictions. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A woman prays during the celebration of a "liberation and healing" Mass at the Institute of Mary Mystical Rose, in Sao Sebastian, a rural area of Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Hundreds attended the non-carnival event seeking comfort for their afflictions. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A woman prays during the celebration of a "liberation and healing" Mass at the Institute of Mary Mystical Rose, in Sao Sebastian, a rural area of Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Hundreds attended the non-carnival event seeking comfort for their afflictions. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A woman prays during the celebration of a "liberation and healing" Mass at the Institute of Mary Mystical Rose, in Sao Sebastian, a rural area of Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Hundreds attended the non-carnival event seeking comfort for their afflictions. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A woman prays during the celebration of a "liberation and healing" Mass at the Institute of Mary Mystical Rose, in Sao Sebastian, a rural area of Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Hundreds attended the non-carnival event seeking comfort for their afflictions. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Rio de Janeiro is relaxing the use of masks as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes in Brazil.

“Following the determinations of our scientific committee we will have a decree tomorrow to end the mandatory use of masks indoors and outdoors,” Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said on Twitter on Monday.

Earlier, data from Johns Hopkins University showed the global death toll of the virus surpassed 6 million people. Brazil is one of the hardest-hit nations, counting more than 650,000 confirmed deaths, the second most after the United States.

In Brazil’s Federal District, where the capital Brasilia lies, authorities have decided the use of masks is mandatory only indoors. Local media say Sao Paulo will take the same step on Wednesday. Some cities in Santa Catarina, a Southern Brazil state, stopped requiring the use of masks last week.

Brazil’s vaccination campaign has been successful and the country’s contamination rates and death numbers have fallen consistently. More than 150 million people, all above the age of 5, have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the country.

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The arrival of the omicron variant made contagions skyrocket again between the end of last year and the beginning of February, but figures are coming down steadily.

Denise Garrett, vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute that advocates for expanding global vaccine access, agrees masks could be optional outdoors, but believes people should think about risks in doing that amid gatherings and when indoors.

“The objective now is to slow the viral transmission as much as possible so to avoid the birth of new variants,” Garrett told The Associated Press on the phone. “The use of masks is a very effective way, with a high cost-benefit relation to achieve that.”

Rio had its record high of cases on Jan. 10, with more than 33,000 people testing positive. The city’s health secretary, Daniel Soranz, said the current rate of positive cases is the lowest since the pandemic hit Brazil in March 2020.