RIO DE JANEIRO — One of the most famous parties in the world, the New Year’s Eve bash on Copacabana beach, which last year drew almost three million people, is another high-profile casualty of COVID-19.
The city, which as of Dec. 14 reported more than 151,000 coronavirus cases, announced this week all official parties for New Year’s Eve have been cancelled. This included planned telecast and live-streaming of concerts around Rio’s numerous beaches.
The beaches recently reopened to the public and some bars and restaurants around the city were selling tickets for New Year’s Eve. But beachfront restaurants — torn between the health threat of large gatherings and the desperate need for income — were fearful of what Dec. 31 could bring had everything gone ahead.
Vanessa Raposo, who works at Aipo & Aipim restaurant close to the Copacabana waterfront, said she thought it would be best for people if festivities were cancelled.
“As someone who works in a restaurant, I would like it to be different, because, economically speaking, things are very difficult,” Raposo said. “But we know that we are living in a very serious health crisis.”
Rio is in the second wave of COVID-19, with worrying numbers of cases, and Raposo fears large crowds still might gather despite the official announcement.
“I don’t know if the authorities will be able to restrain people from coming to New Year’s, from coming to the beach,” she said.
If that happens, “now and in January, the situation here will be much worse,” she said. “I think we have to make a collective effort.”
New Year’s Eve concerts had been scheduled to take place — without an audience — on six stages installed in different regions of the city, such as Forte de Copacabana and Cidade das Artes, in Barra da Tijuca near Rio. Those were to be televised and streamed online.
Julia Leidens, who recently graduated from Estácio de Sá University, a private university in Rio, originally planned to attend the party this year. Her mother works at a beachfront hotel and often gets free tickets for parties. But with the COVID-19 scare this year they decided to stay home in Recreio dos Bandeirantes and celebrate with family.
Leidens said the parties of 2018 and 2019 were the first she’d attended at Copacabana Beach and “words cannot express how beautiful everything is.”
Jéssica Oliveira and Larissa Coelho live close to Copacabana beach and, for them, attending the party have been a New Year’s Eve tradition.
Oliveira said normally by this time of year the beach and waterfront hotels would be jammed. But while the neighbourhood’s been busier lately than it was two months ago, “it’s not like a typical December.”
Oliveira said the two would “take the puppy to walk and didn’t see such a large crowd of people on the street.” But as the Southern Hemisphere summer brought warm temperatures “people returned to normal life.”
On the beach, there had been clusters of exercisers, surfing classes and various sports being played. But was only in November that beaches were officially reopened.
To Coelho, the lure of the Rio beaches is so strong, and the celebrations of New Year’s Eve on Copacabana so appealing, that even in a pandemic “I believe that people will come anyway.”