RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil is wrapping up on Tuesday this year’s Carnival, an unusual celebration given the lack of samba school parades, the huge street festivities and other mass gatherings, although some clandestine parties were indeed held threatening to worsen the coronavirus pandemic in the South American giant, which has been hard-hit by COVID-19.
The costumes, glitter bodypaint and pulsing musical rhythms at the street dances this year have given way to a broad police operation in the country’s main cities to prevent large gatherings of people not willing to completely shelve their celebrating this year.
Municipal authorities in Rio de Janeiro, the epicenter of Brazil’s Carnival, found themselves forced to cancel all events, including the huge dance parades in the Sambadrome – which has been transformed into a COVID vaccination center – with an eye toward limiting the spread of the coronavirus, another wave of which is once again sweeping over Brazil.
However, since last Friday, when the start of Carnival had originally been scheduled for this year, secret parties have been detected in Rio where hundreds of revelers ignore the law, many of them refusing to wear facemasks.
There were also clandestine parties in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Ceara, Parana and Santa Catarina – and perhaps elsewhere – where local nightspots were closed and fines were being imposed on anyone found to be refusing to abide by anti-gathering regulations.
Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to spread inexorably in Brazil, where an average of 1,100 people are dying from COVID-19 each day, the highest daily death toll since last July, even as hundreds, if not thousands, of Carnival revelers seem to be unable to resist taking to the streets en masse to party.
In Marechal Hermes, a neighborhood in northern Rio, a group of revelers known as “bate bolas” took to the streets wearing devil masks and outfitted in colorful clothing to dance in a city square without music, greeting a number of children before returning to their homes almost unnoticed.
“The pandemic was really bad. We thought it wasn’t going to happen, and so we prepared our costumes, but we couldn’t wear them and we’re dressed in these old costumes instead,” Mario Miranda, 54, told EFE.
The professional masseur was dressed with a horror mask and has been bouncing or batting around a rubber ball, he said, ever since he was five years old – hence his membership in the “bate-bolas” (which means, essentially, “those who hit balls” in Portuguese).
Nobody knows exactly where the term “bate-bolas” comes from, but the thinking is that it dates back to the Portuguese colonial era, a tradition that has now incorporated elements of French and popular culture in Rio’s suburbs.
But the pandemic has taken from Miranda’s family the most anticipated event of the year – celebrating Carnival – although they are already preparing for 2022.
“If they let us, we’ll do our (bate-bolas) activities next year. The theme will be that of the court jester,” Miranda said.
Several kilometers away, in the Vidigal “favela” or shantytown, a clandestine party attended by hundreds of people was held on Monday morning at a three-story discotheque-restaurant, according to helicopter images broadcast by local media.
The police did not break up the party because, they said, that area is controlled by drug trafficking gangs and a raid could put the lives of local residents at risk.
Rio is the Brazilian city that has suffered the most COVID deaths, with 18,016 locals having lost their lives to the pandemic, ahead of Sao Paulo with 18,010, although Rio had only 6.7 million residents whereas Sao Paulo has 12 million.
In addition, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes announced on Monday the temporary suspension of the vaccination campaign starting on Wednesday due to a lack of vaccine.
Brazil’s first coronavirus case was confirmed on Feb. 26, 2020, which was Ash Wednesday.
Almost a year later, the country of 212 million citizens remains one of the global epicenters of the pandemic with more than 9.8 million confirmed cases and some 240,000 deaths associated with the virus.
Since November, Brazilians have been battling a second wave of COVID-19, although they never really got over the first wave, which collapsed the health care systems in several states, especially in the northern Amazon region.
In addition, the new P.1 strain of the virus, which was first detected in Amazonas and, according to the Health Ministry, is “three times” more contagious than the original strain, continues to spread like wildfire throughout the country.
Sao Paulo state so far has reported 25 cases of the new variant, with 16 of them being local transmissions, or “community spread” – that is, they were cases that had not been imported from outside the state.
A dozen of the cases were detected in Araraquara, a city of 283,000 in the Sao Paulo interior, where local authorities imposed a total lockdown and have closed all businesses except “essential” ones for two weeks to try and halt the spread of the new strain.
Hospital services in that city are already almost maxed out and if the P.1 strain continues to spread it could cause the health care system to collapse, just as occurred in Amazonas, where the situation was aggravated even more by the lack of bottled oxygen for the most serious cases.