Brazil gears up for Carnival to return in full following pandemic

Brazil’s Carnival was returning in full form on Friday following several years of curtailed celebrations because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid last year prompted Rio to delay Carnival by two months, and watered down some of the activities, which were attended mostly by locals.

This year, Brazil’s federal government expects 46 million people to join the festivities that officially begin on Friday and run through to February 22.

That includes visitors to cities that make Carnival a world-famous event, especially Rio but also Salvador, Recife and metropolitan Sao Paulo, which has recently emerged as a hotspot.

Brazil Carnival
Anilson Costa walks on stilts amid revellers at the Ceu na Terra Block or Heaven on Earth street party in Rio de Janeiro, one of the pre-carnival parties (Bruna Prado/AP/PA)

Most tourists are eager to go to the street parties, known as blocos. Rio has permitted more than 600 of them, and there are more unsanctioned blocos.

The biggest blocos lure millions to the streets, including one bloco that plays Beatles songs with a Carnival rhythm for a crowd of hundreds of thousands. Such major blocos were called off last year.

“We want to see the partying, the colours, the people and ourselves enjoying Carnival,” Chilean tourist Sofia Umana, 28, said near Copacabana beach.

APTOPIX Brazil Carnival
Partygoers participate in the Gigantes da Lira street block party in Rio de Janeiro (Silvia Izquierdo/AP/PA)

“What’s good and beautiful costs a lot; Carnival materials are expensive,” Mr Perlingeiro said. “It’s such an important party. It’s a party of culture, happiness, entertainment, leisure and, primarily, its commercial and social side.”

He added that this year’s Carnival will smash records at the Sambadrome, where some 100,000 staff and spectators are expected each day in the sold-out venue, plus 18,000 paraders. While President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is not expected to be among them, his wife Rosangela da Silva has said she will be at the parade.

The first lady’s attendance signals a shift from the administration of former President Jair Bolsonaro, who kept his distance from the event.

Brazil Carnival
Relatives and patients from the Nise de Silveira mental health institute dance during the institute’s carnival parade in the streets of Rio de Janeiro (Silvia Izquierdo/AP/PA)

This year shares some of the spirit of the 1919 edition, which took place right after Spanish influenza killed tens of thousands of Brazilians, but was no longer a significant threat. The First World War had just ended and people were eager to unburden themselves, said David Butter, the author of a book about that year’s celebration.

“There were so many people in Rio’s city centre for Carnival that the whole region ran out of water within hours,” said Butter.

Brazil Carnival
People perform during a street pre-carnival party by the Cordao do Boitata Block, in Rio de Janeiro (Bruna Prado/AP/PA)

Rio’s hotels are at 85% capacity, according to Brazil’s hotel association, which expects last-minute deals to bring that figure near to its maximum. Small businesses are benefitting, too.

“Carnival is beautiful, people are buying, thank God all my employees are paid up to date,” said Jorge Francisco, who sells sequined and sparkly Carnivalwear at his shop in Rio. “For me, this is an immense joy, everyone smiling and wanting. That’s how Carnival is.”

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