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In Brazil, Santa not coming to town as pandemic hits

The COVID-19 pandemic this year dealt a blow to the joyous celebrations that tend to unite families, and its effects are already dealing a setback to those who where looking for a respite with Christmas around the corner.

A bevy of Brazilians who for years have been employed as their local shopping malls' Santa Clauses are feeling the strains of the economic shortfall caused by the global pandemic.

Gino Esposito was already accustomed to dressing up as Santa Claus at a Rio de Janeiro mall, going up and down a chart to confirm which boys and girls were naughty or nice.

Christmas wasn't just a time to be merry for Esposito, it was a job.  

With a thick waist and long gray beard, the coronavirus, and the social restrictions it brings, has decimated demand. His costume hangs, unused.

Gino Esposito used to earn extra money this time of year by suiting up as Santa Claus as a mall in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but the COVID-19 epidemic has left him without the extra income as the demand for mall Santa Claus workers declined

Manoel Miranda de Sousa (right) and his wife (left) don Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus outfits in their live video chats with children in Brazil

A man who goes by 'Santa Claus Edi Noel' is pictured as he prepares to interact with children by video at NorteShopping Center in Rio de Janeiro on November 13

'It's sad,' Esposito said at the newsstand he runs, decorated with pictures of proud Christmas appearances.

'I can't be Santa Claus. The epidemic is there and one feels out of place,' he said. 'You get used to the habit every year.'

As of Wednesday, the coronavirus has killed 173,817 people in Brazil, the world's second-highest death toll behind only the United States. The South American nation has reported 6,386,787 confirmed cases, third behind the U.S. and India.

While the nation saw a decrease in positive cases, infections are rising across the country again. 

A vaccine will not arrive until early 2021, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said Wednesday. 

The first batch of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, some 15 million doses, will arrive in Brazil between January and February. Pazuello estimates there will be 100 million doses by the middle of 2021 and that they expect to produce an additional 160 million doses in the second half of the year. 

A part of a Rio de Janeiro mall's efforts to promote a safe environment during the coronavirus pandemic, a child poses for a picture next to a screen which shows a man who goes by 'Santa Claus Edi Noel' on November 13

An assistant helps the Santa Claus as he prepares to interact with children by video at NorteShopping Center in Rio de Janeiro on November 13

Limachem Cherem, who runs a Santa school in Rio, said local demand for Father Christmas has fallen some 60% to 70%.

There's only one wish on everyone's lips this year, according to Cherem.

'The main gift not only for children but I think for everyone when they come talk to Santa Claus is the [COVID-19] vaccine.' 

In São Paulo, Manoel Miranda de Sousa has adjusted to the coronavirus restrictions by connecting with Cia do Bafafa, a company that offering video chats as a way to maintain social distancing. 

A child interacts with Santa Claus via video during a visit to NorteShopping Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 13

Miranda de Sousa slid into his Santa Claus outfit while his wife settled down as Mrs. Claus inside the comfort of their home, and converted a small area into a Christmas set to chat with children, thus guaranteeing an extra income for the couple at the end of the year. 

In the northeast, Brazilian online news portal G1 reported children visiting shopping centers in Fortaleza, Ceará, and being greeted by Santa Clauses sitting behind a glass wall and on top of a tower in an attempt to allow sufficient distancing.

Jõao Duarte, who for 10 years has donned the St. Nick costume at this time of year, welcomed the new form of interaction while longing for the personal side of it.

'It is important because we maintain the charm of Christmas. Children are able to interact with myself through glass,' said Duarte, who nowadays waves from behind a glass wall. 

'Children wait anxiously all year to come and talk to Santa Claus, so it would be difficult not to come. I miss them very much.'

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