In a normal year, Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome would preparing for its great moment of the year: the world's most famous Carnival parade. But a week before what should be the start of Carnival, the pandemic has replaced pageantry, the AP reports, with the great celebration put on hold until next year as Rio struggles to quash a rise in COVID-19 cases. The Rio mayor's office opened a drive-thru immunization station Saturday at the Sambadrome, where a line of cars queued up on a broad avenue built for floats. "This is usually a place of pleasure. Today it is too, because we are exercising an act of citizenship and we are opening the Sambadrome to vaccinate," said Paulo Roberto Machado, a 68-year-old nurse. Machado has taken part in 40 years of Carnival parades here, but on Saturday he was coordinating 20 volunteer nursing and medical students vaccinating people over 90 years old. "The vaccine represents the hope of better days, of returning to normality, to what we did before," Machado said.
Rio's government officially suspended Carnival and warns it will have no tolerance for those who try to celebrate with open street parades or clandestine parties, saying it is monitoring social media to detect any. Mayor Eduardo Paes, who often participates in the parade at the Sambadrome, asked citizens not to be "idiots" by ignoring the rules and buying tickets to parties that will not be allowed. "It's a cat-and-mouse game looking to punish those who want party," the mayor said. The cancellation has created an economic hole for businesses that depend on the crowds. Hotel occupancy rate normally reaches about 80% in the hot summer months and 100% during Carnival. It's now at roughly 50%. Thousands of Cariocas, as the city’s residents are called, have been idled at the samba schools where they build floats and sew costumes for the vast crowds. The pandemic has hit hard in Rio, which has counted more than 17,600 COVID-19 deaths—the most of any city in Brazil, topping even Sao Paulo, which has nearly twice its population.
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