Brazil prostitutes strike for first-line Covid shots

Prostitutes in the city of Belo Horizonte in southeast Brazil have gone on strike for a week, demanding to be included in the group of front-line workers receiving priority coronavirus vaccines.

Thousands of sex workers in the city have been forced by pandemic-related closure of hotels -- where they rented rooms to sell their services -- to solicit for clients on the street, they say.

"We are in the front line, moving the economy and we are at risk," Cida Vieira, president of the Association of Prostitutes of Minas Gerais state, told AFP. "We need to get vaccinated."

Vieira and other women held a protest Monday in a street lined with shuttered hotels where they used to ply their trade, waving placards declaring: "Sex workers are professionals" and "Sex work and health."

"We are part of the priority group because we deal with various types of people and our lives are at risk," said Lucimara Costa, one of the protesting prostitutes.

The government has prioritized health workers, teachers, the elderly, indigenous people and people with underlying health conditions for the first vaccination round.

It hopes to vaccinate these priority groups, some 77 million people, in the first half of 2021, but experts say this may drag into September due to the shortage of doses.

"We are a priority group, we are health educators, peer educators. We form part of that group, since we give information about STIs for men, distribute condoms..." said Vieira.

Like the rest of Brazil, Minas Gerais state has been battling a second pandemic wave, but the number of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, at 121, is among the lowest in the country.

The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed more than 332,000 lives in Brazil, a toll second only to the United States.