Rio de Janeiro authorities announced Monday they will block beach access the night of December 31 to prevent crowds in one of Brazil's worst-hit cities by the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures will include a ban on vehicles along some 30 kilometers (19 miles) of Rio's coastline, where millions of people typically gather every December 31 to ring in the new year with elaborate firework displays.

Only inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhoods will be able to walk in the area.

Violations may be punished with fines of up to 15,000 reais ($2,800).

"We have to send a hard and direct message to the population," said Alexandre Cardeman, chief of the Rio Operations Center, which is in charge of security and traffic video surveillance.

Rio de Janeiro
In this picture taken on December 31, 2019 a woman watches the traditional New Year's fireworks at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city has closed access to the famous beach this year to prevent Covid-19 contamination Photo: AFP / DANIEL RAMALHO

"What we want to make clear, beyond those restrictions, is that a lot depends on us," he said. "Spend a conscious New Year and stay at home."

Last week, the mayor's office announced that entry would be forbidden to the Copacabana neighborhood, the center of traditional New Year's festivities, from 8:00pm on December 31.

Police barriers will be erected to block both public transport and private vehicles, and the subway will stop circulating in those areas.

The mayor's office had initially planned a virtual celebration with online music shows but canceled any official events two weeks ago.

Brazil, with more than 191,000 deaths, has the second-highest death toll from the coronavirus pandemic, after the United States.

In Rio alone, the death toll is more than 15,000, with a mortality rate of 216 per 100,000 inhabitants -- more than double the national average.

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