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Virus closes Rio's Copacabana Palace for first time ever

DAVID BILLER
Gloria Maria cleans the shore of an unusually empty Copacabana beach backdropped by the Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, March 26, 2020, as people stay indoors to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus. The 41-year-old city worker said that in her 10 years of work cleaning the beach, she never saw an empty beach on a sunny Thursday. "It's terrible, people are dying in Europe due this virus," she added. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio de Janeiro's stately Copacabana Palace hotel will close its doors Friday for the first time since its inauguration 96 years ago as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The huge building facing the storied Copacabana Beach is among the Brazilian city's few five-star hotels.

Rio state’s governor has imposed a series of restrictions on transit, gatherings and business operations, and also prohibited people from going to the beaches, but did not shutter hotels.

“Due to the pandemic, and to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, we announce the temporary closure of our activities starting tomorrow,” the local press office of the hotel's owner, Belmond, said in a statement. “The tourism industry is the most affected in the world and we hope soon to be able to reopen our doors.”

The Copacabana Palace receives visiting musicians who play at the annual Rock in Rio festival, hosts an opulent ball during Carnival, and its rooms offer sweeping views of the New Year's fireworks show.

While closed to the public, the iconic hotel will be home to just two people: the hotel's director and the Brazilian music legend Jorge Ben Jor, a septuagenarian who lives there year-round.