Brazilian mayors torn between carnival and epidemic safety
Rio de Janeiro Mayors across Brazil are divided over whether the year-end festivities and February Carnival, traditionally lavishly celebrated across the vast country, should be preserved, with some fearing that now low rates of COVID-19 infection may turn back. .
Rio de Janeiro goes ahead with New Year’s Eve and the legendary Carnival, both of which are likely to attract millions of revelers. But others have opted for a more conservative approach: Several municipalities in São Paulo, Minas Gerais and other states have canceled Carnival altogether, including street parties known as “mass”.
The number of daily deaths and new infections from the virus is currently low and vaccination coverage is higher than in many countries — including the United States — but officials fear that gathering large crowds together could reignite a disease that has already killed more than 600,000 in Brazil alone.
Pro-reserve officials stress the importance of the carnival to local economies that have suffered so badly during the pandemic.
In Rio de Janeiro, Mayor Eduardo Paes promised the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration ever, with numerous fireworks displays and artists performing on twelve theaters across the “wonderful city.”
The carnival presale, which took place a few months later, is also open. Rehearsals at the samba schools that will compete during the parade have resumed for the first time since the pandemic, filling city streets with rhythm and joy.
Rio has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with nearly 100% of its adult population fully immunized.
The city of São Paulo has yet to be definitively governed, but in October, Mayor Ricardo Nunes spoke out in favor of preserving the carnival, which is expected to attract about 15 million visitors.
But as many as 70 other cities in the interior of Sao Paulo state have chosen to cancel the festival, due to health reasons or lack of budget, according to online news site G1.
In the state of Paraná, Representative Cobra Reporter requested that the carnival be cancelled, stressing the clear and sad effects of last year’s celebrations that helped spread the virus and the number of deaths in both the country and his state.
Brazilian Tourism Minister Gelson Machado Neto refused to take sides on Thursday, saying that legally the decision rests with the states and municipalities.
Brazil’s National Board of Health Trustees told the Associated Press that decisions must be made based on scientific studies and on the state of the epidemic in each municipality.
In the absence of national guidelines, many mayors are still hesitant, especially since cases and hospitalizations are rising in countries with similar vaccination coverage to that of Brazil, such as Germany.
In Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state, the mayor said last week that he could not force people to stay indoors, but that the city would not “sponsor” the carnival.
The mixed message drew criticism from state officials, who called on mayors not to shirk their responsibilities. “The worst thing a city can do is not get involved in anything,” Minas Gerais Governor Romeo Zema said on November 23.
The Minister of Health, Fabio Pacretti, echoed the situation: “The carnival will happen, we cannot close our eyes. Parties happen, events happen. And if we do not give direction, the carnival will happen in a disorderly fashion, with greater risks to the population.”
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