RIO DE JANEIRO — While Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Carnival parade will go on, the city will cancel its street parties, which ordinarily draw millions of revelers, the mayor says, citing the Omicron variant.
The freewheeling public celebrations “won’t be possible,” Mayor Eduardo Paes Casaid at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s been decided: there won’t be street carnival in the tradition of the past.”
Mr. Paes said the official parade, in which samba groups put on elaborately choreographed shows flanked by bleachers that seat 56,000 people, would be held, with some health precautions.
Last year, Carnival was canceled in its entirely because of the pandemic, but for many Brazilians, the real show is the street parties, and Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, were devastated to learn that they would not take place.
“I was very excited, very hopeful, for the 2022 Carnival, even more so after a year without Carnival,” said João Ramos, 26.
Mr. Ramos, a designer, said that as soon as he read the news, he shared it with friends, who had already been discussing what costumes to wear.
“It poured cold water on us, everyone was so sad,” he said.
Still, Mr. Ramos said, the decision is understandable. Already the effect of year-end celebrations can be seen: The number of cases is ticking up again, after plunging for months.
As Carnival approached, many Brazilians had begun cautiously rehearsing again, planning for that outburst of samba-fueled joy when they and millions of visitors take over public spaces and shake off the previous year’s sorrows.
After two years of a pandemic, they said, it was sorely needed.
“With most Brazilians fully immunized, we thought it was happening,” said Tatiana Paz, the organizer of one street performance group. “But then the situation worsened again, and there is nothing we can do about it.”
Other major cities such as Olinda, São Luís, and Florianópolis have also canceled their carnival events in the past 24 hours.
Rio canceled both the parade and the street parties in 2021, when Brazil’s death toll surged as its vaccination campaign was off to a slow start. But toward the end of the year, as shots became more widely available, Brazilians embraced them: About 68 percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, and the country’s caseload and death toll plunged.
The period of relative calm that followed allowed the population to begin socializing again. Streets, beaches, and bars became packed as summer set in. On Copacabana beach, the sky was filled with fireworks as onlookers welcomed the New Year.
However, cases started rising again as Omicron spread around the world.
Rio’s annual Carnival, considered to be one of the largest in the world, takes place in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, the Western Christian holy day that marks the start of Lent. Ash Wednesday falls on March 2 this year.
The city’s tradition, with its lively music and elaborate costumes, has endured and often thrived even in difficult times. Brazilians have danced through wars, hyperinflation, repressive military rule, runaway street violence and the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Official calls to postpone Carnival in Brazil in 1892 (for sanitation reasons) and 1912 (to mourn the death of a national hero) were largely ignored.
In another city famous for Carnival, New Orleans, this year’s Mardi Gras parades appear to be moving forward. The event was canceled in 2021.