Brazil’s Rio cancels New Year beach party over pandemic

The event is cancelled out of respect for all of the victims, and to prioritise security for all

by AFP / pic by AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO • Brazil’s seaside city Rio de Janeiro’s annual New Year’s Eve beach bash, already reduced in scope and format, has been cancelled due to the raging coronavirus pandemic, the mayor’s office said on Tuesday.

What is normally a mega-party with live music, a dazzling display of fireworks and hundreds of thousands of people dancing to live music had already been drastically downsized, with the fireworks cancelled and several events moved online.

Mayor Marcelo Crivella’s office said in a statement that it had “opted to cancel the event out of respect for all of the victims, and to prioritise security for all”.

Some 180,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, population 212 million. It is the world’s second-highest death toll after the US, and virus cases are on the rise.

Rio de Janeiro has the highest ratio of Covid-19 victims of any Brazilian state.

Cancelling the New Year event “is a decision necessary for the protection of all. The party will be to hope for good results from the vaccine”, Crivella said in the statement.

Officials also cancelled the city’s 2021 Carnival event, normally held in late February, although they left open the possibility of having a later off-season event if the vaccination campaign is successful.

The government of President Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil has guaranteed access to 300 million vaccines, mainly those developed by Oxford University along with AstraZeneca plc pharmaceutical and Brazil’s Fiocruz foundation, as well as vaccines from the Covax Facility international initiative.

The government is also in talks with Pfizer Inc to acquire another 70 million vaccines.

Brazil’s Health Ministry said on Tuesday that officials expect to be able to vaccinate at-risk groups — the elderly, health professionals and native Brazilians — within four months of the vaccine’s approval, and all Brazilians within 16 months.

The statement followed a court order demanding dates for the start and end of the national vaccination programme.

Details of Brazil’s national vaccination plan have been caught up in political infighting between Bolsonaro and Joao Doria, the governor of Sao Paulo state and a likely candidate in the 2022 presidential race.

Doria supports including the CoronaVac vaccine — developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd, a private Chinese lab, in collaboration with Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute — in the national vaccination plan.

Bolsonaro, however, claims that this is just a ploy by his political rival and of the Chinese communist government.