SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilians saw in 2021 with fireworks under unusual social distancing measures, while in a hospital intensive care ward outside Sao Paulo, doctors tending COVID-19 patients held one minute of silence for the passing of a deadly year.
Medical staff stood at the foot of beds with people hooked up to ventilators, and then went around wishing their patients a happy New Year through face shields and masks.
The sound of fireworks in the streets outside broke the monotony of whirring ventilators and beeping monitors.
There was little to celebrate with 195,000 Brazilians losing their lives in the world's second-deadliest coronavirus outbreak after the United States, but there is hope that vaccines will arrive in the New Year.
In the ICU ward at the field hospital erected in the industrial city of Santo André adjacent to Brazil's largest metropolis, patients on ventilators received the New Year suffering in silence, and hoping for a better 2021.
"I'm sad to be separated from my family, but I expect to return home healthy," said Vinicius Perreira, who was hospitalized five days ago with half his lungs collapsed.
"I hope the vaccine will finally arrive in 2021 to deal with this illness and we all have a better year," he told Reuters.
Doctors and nurses said they were exhausted by the endless battle they have waged since March to save lives.
"The one minute of silence was so moving for me," said Wakiria Miranda, a 19-year-old nurse, who said she missed her family but was happy to be giving some love to isolated patients in need.
"May this pandemic retreat and people become more aware of the need for social distancing," she said.
Despite the cancellation of most year-end events due to the pandemic, Brazilians celebrated with fireworks mainly from their homes, though hundreds appeared on beaches that are usually jam packed on New Year's Eve.
Rio de Janeiro's famous crescent-shaped Copacabana Beach, where 2 million revelers watched fireworks launched from off-shore barges last year, was virtually empty on Thursday night, but hundreds of people still turned out wearing masks.
Authorities closed Copacabana Beach and shut down the city's metro system early to prevent crowds as Rio de Janeiro faces the worst resurgence of the virus in Brazil, although that has not stopped its inhabitants packing bars, restaurants and beaches.
In Sao Paulo, the rolling average of daily deaths has quadrupled since the first half of November, when a second wave of the contagion began, from 22 fatalities a day to 88 on Friday.
Brazil on Thursday reported 56,773 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 1,074 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said.
It was the third day in a row with over 1,000 deaths following the resurgence of the pandemic in the country.
(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Neil Fullick)
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