Vaccine jabs replace glitter and samba at Rio’s Carnival.


In good times and bad, Rio de Janeiro’s famously boisterous Carnival has endured, often thriving when the going got particularly tough.

People partied hard during years of war, hyperinflation, repressive military rule, runaway violence and even the Spanish Flu in 1919, when the Carnival was considered among the most decadent on record.

This year, though, the only thing keeping the spirit of Carnival faintly alive is online events produced by groups that traditionally put on extravagant street performances.

“It’s very sad for Rio not to have Carnival,” Daniel Soranz, the city’s health secretary, said this past Saturday morning, standing in the middle of the Sambódromo parade grounds as elderly residents got vaccinated under white tents. “This is a place to party, to celebrate life.”

Marcilia Lopes, 85, a fixture of the Portela samba school who hasn’t missed a Carnival for decades, looked relieved after she got her first dose of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine.

She has been so scared of catching the virus for the past year that she refused to leave home for anything. On her birthday, she asked her children not to even bother buying a cake — she was in no mood to celebrate. So Ms. Lopes is missing her beloved Carnival this year, but stoically.

“I’m at peace,” she said. “Many people are suffering.”

Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak has been among the most severe in the world. It has killed more than 239,000 people here, second only to the death toll in the United States, and several Brazilian states are grappling with large caseloads.

As a second wave took hold in recent months, local officials across the country canceled the traditional Carnival celebrations, which normally bring in hundreds of million of dollars in tourism revenue and create tens of thousands of temporary jobs.

Marcus Faustini, Rio de Janeiro’s secretary of culture, said that as painful as it was to slog through carnival season without revelry, there was no responsible way to adapt the megaparty for this era of social distancing.

“It would make no sense to hold this party at this time and run the risk of driving a surge of cases,” he said. “The most vital thing right now is to protect lives.”

Lis Moriconi contributed reporting.


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