Dozens of bars and night-life events across Brazil have been closed ahead of Carnival, the country's most popular festival, following tough safety checks in the wake of the disco fire tragedy in the southern city of Santa Maria that claimed 238 lives.
In Rio, famed for its five-day Carnival street parade extravaganza kicking off Friday, 127 of 209 establishments inspected by firefighters have been shut, agencies have reported.
Despite the measures, some six million people – including near a million visitors – are expected to flood Rio's streets for the festival, according to the Municipal Tourism Office.
City authorities have encouraged people to use de public transport. The subway will run continuously until the end of Carnival. "Nowadays, the population has extensive knowledge about road blockades, cleaning schedules and operations of public policy," says tourism secretary Antônio Pedro Figueira de Mello.
On Friday, the 19 samba schools of the so-called Access Group of Rio Carnival will start the marathon parades that will continue until Tuesday. Like in a professional football league, the competition between the associations is divided into several divisions. The Special Group, with elite schools , is composed by 12 associations that parade on Sunday and Monday nights. Tickets for the parades down the Sambadrome have sold out, but tour packages usually include entries.
Jurors' evaluations are based on various factors, such as allegories, harmony, plot and drums (the typical percussion instrument of Carnival). Animated by a theme, samba school members parade on the catwalk, singing their own song, and using costumes and floats. Since 1929, the date of the first contest, the ritual has been the same.
The favorite to win this year is Unidos da Tijuca, the third oldest Rio samba school, whose theme this year is Germany. Unidos da Tijuca is the defending champion and it has as parade director Paulo Barros, one of the most promising in recent years. Another school quoted to win this year is Beija-Flor de Nilópolis. Traditional schools, like Mangueira and Portela, are facing internal political problems and should not be among the top positions this year.