CORRECTED (OFFICIAL) – Brazil’s Maracana stadiums treated as a coronavirus hospital

CORRECTED (OFFICIAL) - Brazil's Maracana stadiums treated as a coronavirus hospital

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s Maracana sports complex in Rio de Janeiro, which includes the world famous soccer stadium, will be a temporary hospital to help fight coronavirus, state authorities said Thursday.

As cases of coronavirus spread in Brazil, reaching more than 2,900 on Thursday, state authorities sought sports venues for use as temporary hospitals.

Seventy-seven people have died from the disease, though right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly ignored the severity of the disease, comparing it to a “small flu.”

At the state level, governors are implementing lockdowns and trying to expand medical facilities, even as Bolsonaro brutally criticizes them in what he describes as an unnecessary slowdown in Latin America’s largest economy. .

Maracana will join the Pacaembu stadium in Sao Paulo and the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia as they convert into temporary health facilities. The Brazilian soccer federation has suspended the current season of the country’s national tournament due to the outbreak.

The Rio stadium held the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games. It was inaugurated for the 1950 FIFA World Cup and is one of the largest, best known soccer venues in the world.

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro say they have yet to determine how many beds Maracana can handle. It is also unclear if the temporary hospital will be built on the soccer field itself or elsewhere in the sports complex, which is also home to a track and field stadium and an aquatic park.

Overall, the state of Rio de Janeiro, second to Brazil’s population, is expected to build six temporary hospitals. (Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Editing by Tom Brown)