Brazil is getting ready to host private parties as Rio de Janeiro's world-famous carnival holiday rolls around this year despite the ongoing wave of the omicron coronavirus variant which could result in the cancelation of official events.
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.
Gregoire 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. Public urination is widespread; glitter a prerequisite.
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 HoteisRIO.
Alfredo Lopes, the president of HoteisRIO, 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 Chance 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, and just say, 'Screw it,'" he said.