Brazilian mayors torn between carnival and pandemic uncertainty

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Mayors across Brazil are divided over whether to hold year-end festivities and the February Carnival, traditionally celebrated lavishly in all four corners of the great nation, with some fearing now low COVID-19 infection rates could roar back .

Rio de Janeiro is moving forward with both New Year’s Eve and its legendary carnival, each of which will attract millions of celebrants. But others have opted for a more conservative approach: Several municipalities in Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and other states stopped the carnival altogether, including the street parties known as “blocos”.

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 US – but officials fear bringing large crowds together could revive a disease that has already killed more than 600,000 in Brazil alone.

Officials for holding events emphasize the importance of carnival for local economies that suffered deeply during the pandemic.

In Rio de Janeiro, Mayor Eduardo Pães has promised the biggest New Year celebration ever, with several fireworks shows and artists performing on a dozen stages in the “wonderful city”.

The sale for the carnival, which will be held a few months later, is also open. Rehearsals of samba schools that will compete during the parade have been resumed for the first time since the pandemic and fill the city streets with rhythm and joy.

Rio has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with almost 100% of the adult population fully vaccinated.

The city of Sao Paulo has not ruled definitively yet, but in October, Mayor Ricardo Nunes spoke in favor of retaining the carnival, which is expected to attract about 15 million visitors.

But as many as 70 other cities in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo have chosen to cancel the festival, citing either health reasons or lack of budget, according to the online news site G1.

In the state of Parana, state legislator Cobra Reporter called for the Carnival to be canceled, emphasizing the obvious and “sad effects” of last year’s celebrations that helped spread the virus and the death toll in both the country and his state.

Brazil’s Tourism Minister Gilson Machado Neto declined to take sides on Thursday, saying the decision legally lies with states and municipalities.

Brazil’s national health secretary told the Associated Press that decisions should be made based on scientific studies and the state of the pandemic in each municipality.

In the absence of national guidelines, many mayors are still insecure, especially as cases and hospital stays increase in countries with similar vaccination coverage as Brazil, such as Germany.

In Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, the mayor said last week that he could not force people to stay at home, but that the city would not “sponsor” the carnival.

The mixed message drew criticism from government officials, who urged mayors not to shirk responsibility. “The worst thing a city can do is not interfere in anything,” Minas Gerai’s governor Romeu Zema said on November 23.

The position was reiterated by his health secretary, Fábio Baccheretti: “Carnival will happen, we can not close our eyes. The parties happen, the events happen. And if we do not provide guidance, the carnival will take place in a disorganized way, with greater risk to the population.”

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