Rio de Janeiro hails the return of Carnival

By Maria Angelica Troncoso

Rio de Janeiro, Feb 25 (EFE).- Two years ago Friday, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival culminated in the parade of the top samba schools and Brazilian authorities confirmed the first Covid-19 case in Latin America.

And though some 648,000 Brazilians have lost their lives to coronavirus, Cariocas – as Rio residents are known – are optimistic and looking forward to Carnival, albeit one unlike any of the previous celebrations.

The festival usually begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday and runs for five days, culminating with the procession in the Sambadrome, where the schools vie for honors.

This year, because of the ongoing pandemic, Rio has postponed the Carnival to April 21-24.

But in a nod to the many people who had already booked flights and hotel rooms in Rio for this week and next by the time the postponement was announced, the Independent League of Samba Schools (LIESA) will offer a “mini-parade” Saturday night featuring performances by the 12 elite samba schools that make up the Special Group.

“The worst has passed,” LIESA chief Luis Carlos Magalhaes told Efe.

Magalhaes, who leads the Portela samba school, which has won 22 Carnival titles in the 98 years since its founding, said that the hardest thing about the pandemic has been uncertainty.

“To do Carnival is to make commitments, sign contracts, and that became difficult,” he said.

The economy of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-largest city, relies heavily on tourism and Carnival is one of the major attractions for international visitors.

Without Carnival, tourism revenue declined last year by a record 45.3 percent compared with 2020, according to figures from the CNC, a confederation representing Brazil’s retail, services and leisure sectors.

The greatest impact has been on the numerous small businesses and self-employed artisans who do all of the behind-the-scenes work for Carnival, such as building floats and stages and making costumes.

In 2020, more than 2.1 million tourists – around 25 percent of them from abroad – visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, spending 9.74 billion reais ($1.9 billion).

Around 300,000 people packed into the Sambadrome two years ago for the parades, but more than 7 million turned out for the rolling street parties. EFE mat/dr

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