Brazil's Rio cancels New Year beach party over pandemic

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Rio de Janeiro's annual New Year's Eve beach bash, already reduced in scope and format, has been canceled due to the raging coronavirus pandemic, the mayor's office said 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 canceled 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 prioritize 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 United States, and virus cases are on the rise.

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

Canceling 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.

- Carnival 2021 also axed -

Officials also canceled 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 that Brazil has guaranteed access to 300 million vaccines, mainly those developed by Oxford University along with AstraZeneca pharmaceutical and Brazil's Fiocruz foundation, as well as vaccines from the Covax Facility international initiative.

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

Brazil's health ministry said 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 program.

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, 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.

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