RIO DE JANEIRO — While Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Carnival parade will go on, the city will cancel its street parties, the mayor said on Tuesday, to the dismay of millions of revelers who pour into the city’s public spaces every year to celebrate and wash away any sorrows in samba, sweat and beer.
The freewheeling public parties “won’t be possible,” Mayor Eduardo Paes said 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 in an area flanked by bleachers that seat 56,000 people, would be held, but with some health precautions.
But Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, were devastated.
“I was very excited, very hopeful, for the 2022 Carnival, even more so after a year without Carnival,” said João Victor Ramos, 26.
Mr. Ramos, a designer, said that as soon as he read the news on his phone, he shared it with friends, who were already having a good time deciding what costumes to wear.
“It poured cold water on us, everyone was so sad,” he said, before adding reluctantly that the decision was understandable, as the effect of year-end celebrations on Brazil’s coronavirus caseload was already noticeable. The number of cases is ticking up again, after plunging for months.
Many in the city had begun cautiously rehearsing for the festivities, planning for the citywide outburst of joy. After two years of a pandemic, they said, it was sorely needed.
“There was a twist that we were not expecting,” said Tatiana Paz, the organizer of one of Rio’s hundreds of street performance groups known as “blocos,” which play music and lead throngs of dancers through the streets for days. “With most Brazilians fully immunized, we thought it was happening. 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 last 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, many welcomed the New Year under a sky filled with fireworks — though without the usual concerts that go along with the celebration.
However, infections started rising again as the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which in some cases can infect even vaccinated people, spread around the world. Average daily reports of new virus cases in Brazil have surged again in the past few days, although the numbers remain far below the peaks reached in May and July.
Rodrigo Rezende, who is the head of a group of blocos, said they had already been applying for official permits when the bad news came through.
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The global surge. The coronavirus is spreading faster than ever at the start of 2022, but the last days of 2021 brought the encouraging news that the Omicron variant produces less severe illness than earlier waves. As such, governments are focusing more on expanding vaccination than limiting the spread.
“We were getting ready,” he said, “but were very aware that it could eventually not happen.”
Mayor Paes suffered a backlash for his decision, with many criticizing his choice to keep the costly Carnival parade, which is broadcast on television nationwide, while canceling the free, public celebrations in the streets.
The decision “favors the industry, and it excludes the regular people,” said Nyandra Fernandes, one of the dancers of the Tambores de Olokun bloco.
The mayor responded on Twitter, brushing off allegations that his decision was elitist: “With all due respect to couch analysts and progressives,” he wrote, “the poor and the humble” are strongly represented in the official parade.
“They are the creators of this incredible cultural manifestation,” he said.
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 in 1912 (to mourn the death of a national hero) were largely ignored.
Conversely, this year’s Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans appear to be moving forward after the event was canceled in 2021 because of the pandemic.