The Omicron variant is again forcing event organizers to weigh whether to cancel, postpone or forge ahead in the face of superspreader risks.
Part of the shock in spring 2020 was seeing the COVID-19 pandemic bring virtually all major world events, from concerts to sporting competitions to holiday celebrations, to a screeching halt. Now, with the Delta and Omicron variants exploding around the world, the same hard reality will be facing event organizers in 2022 for a second or third year in a row, while the rest of us are left to ponder what it means to live in a world where we can’t come together en masse.
We’ve seen this week as Brazil wrestles with the reality in the face of its famous Carnival, a cramped and sweaty celebration that is an essential national tradition and major economic engine… and a potential superspreader event. As O Globo reports, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, which normally draws over seven million people and generates massive revenue for the city, will see limited festivities continue, like the Sapucaí carnival of performing samba schools.
But much of the energy and economics will be missing, after the ban on popular organized street parties, known as “blocos.” The annual Carnival is held the six days before the beginning of Lent, with Brazil’s different regions showing off local styles of costume, dance and celebration, and at least 50 Brazilian cities and towns have again canceled this year due to COVID.
Omicron cancels Broadway
In the United States, the Omicron surge has postponed the Grammy Music Awards, which were planned to take place on Jan. 31. Last year’s Grammys was also postponed and ultimately featured more pre-recorded performances and smaller numbers of attendees. No date has been set for the 2022 event, as many other ceremonies have also been postponed, including the Critics Choice Awards, or canceled in-person programming, like the Sundance Film Festival.
The effect on cultural programming is even broader: A slew of TV show premieres, concerts and plays have either been suspended or canceled outright to limit infection spread. The first Broadway victim of the Omicron wave was Jagged Little Pill, the Grammy and Tony-Award winning musical inspired by the Alanis Morissette album, which ended its run early.
Still, others are forging ahead — for now. Organizers of Coachella, North America’s largest music festival, announced that the six-day event will go ahead in April, with Kanye West and Billie Eilish as headliners. But as NBC News notes: “The sheer logistics of more than 100,000 people traveling to and gathering at a single location create immeasurable possibilities for disease transmission.”
China wrestles with Olympics and Year of the Tiger
Sports too is in the variant’s path, with some match cancellations and such superstars as soccer legend Lionel Messi testing positive in recent days. While the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are going forward with major restrictions next month, the fate of China’s biggest annual holiday, the Lunar New Year, is in question.
Ahead of the Winter Games, China’s National Health Commission has announced travel restrictions as part of its “zero-COVID” strategy to prevent the Games from being a mass spreader event. Those living in medium (10 reported cases in the last two weeks) or high-risk (more than 10 cases) areas are prohibited from going to other regions, while those in low-risk places are only advised not to travel.
The regulations are a blow for many Chinese families, who haven’t been able to see relatives for the New Year since 2019. The millions who normally travel may be forced to ring in the Year of the Tiger, marking the end of winter and start of the spring season, alone.
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