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Rio de Janeiro is ready to party, with or without carnival

"Bate-bola" revellers perform during the traditional carnival festivity in a suburb in Rio de Janeiro despite Carnival celebrations being postponed to April due to the COVID-19 outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday.

"Bate-bola" revellers perform during the traditional carnival festivity in a suburb in Rio de Janeiro despite Carnival celebrations being postponed to April due to the COVID-19 outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday. (Ricardo Moraes, Reuters)


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RIO DE JANEIRO — As Rio de Janeiro's world-famous carnival holiday rolls around this year without official events due to Brazil's ongoing omicron coronavirus wave, a slew of private parties are ensuring glitter-dusted revelers will have plenty of ways to celebrate.

Rio's carnival was canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic. The public holiday will this year not coincide with the colorful samba school parade, held in the "sambodromo," or Sambadrome, which has been postponed to April. The city's free and wildly hedonistic street parties, known as blocos, have been scrapped.

Grégoire Putteman, a party organizer who DJs as Craig Ouar, called the city's decision to cancel the blocos "hypocritical," as Rio is largely back to normal after suffering one of the world's worst COVID-19 outbreaks. He said he had to cap his Domply party at 1,500 people, given the need to check attendees' vaccination status, and would only be able to offer free entrance up to a point. In prior years, he could bring in as many as 3,000 revelers.

"Everything is already happening in the city, there are parties every weekend, there are parties in the streets, so prohibiting them during carnival doesn't make any sense," he said. "People really want to party."

Notwithstanding the large number of private events, Rio's streets have been much calmer in the run-up to carnival this year. Normally, the blocos start appearing as early as January, filling the streets with samba bands and boozy revelers in wacky outfits.

The lack of official events has not stopped tourists from arriving. Foreign languages can be heard across the city's beaches, and nearly 80% of hotel rooms are occupied, according to industry group HotéisRIO.

Alfredo Lopes, the president of HotéisRIO, said in a statement he expected that number to rise to 85% in the coming days. He credited the occupancy rates to Brazil's high rate of vaccination, allied with the real currency's weak exchange rate, which prompted many Brazilians to opt for domestic vacations.

Dani Souto, who plays under the name DJ Chãnce Da Silva and runs an annual free party called O/NDA at which he expects 6,000 to 10,000 people this year, said it was a shame that without the free blocos many of the opportunities for partying involved paid tickets. He also lamented the financial hit that the lack of official events would have on many of the city's residents.

"It's sad to see," he said. "Rio de Janeiro is a city that is really dependent on the carnival, and the carnival is really dependent on Rio de Janeiro."

Putteman said he thought some people may end up ignoring the bloco ban.

"Aside from all the private parties that will take place, I think lots of blocos will spring up at the last minute," he said.

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Gabriel Stargardter

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