By Gabriele Pileri
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) – Thousands of people revelled in the start of the annual Carnival celebrations in Venice on Saturday, marking a slow return to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the two previous editions.
The 2020 Venice Carnival, which usually draws tourists from around the world, was curtailed when the pandemic broke out in Italy in February that year and then cancelled the following year as the government sought to contain infections.
“This is the Carnival of hope,” said Venice resident Cristian Scalise. “COVID is ending and we hope to return to our life as always.”
Italy’s rate of new COVID infections and hospitalisations has been gradually declining in recent weeks and the government this week ended a requirement for people to wear face masks outdoors under most circumstances.
However some Carnival attractions, such as parades, will remain suspended to avoid contagion, authorities have ruled.
“I came here because I missed the Carnival so much and because we haven’t been able to celebrate it for two years,” said Barbara del Prato, from the city of Parma.
She had travelled to Venice with her entire family, all dressed in elaborate costumes.
Some 50,000 people had come to the lagoon city to take part in the celebration, ANSA news agency reported, citing local police.
The Venice Carnival began centuries ago as a period of excess before the rigors of Lent, the 40 days of fasting that traditionally precede Easter. A traditional Carnival costume often included a mask – not as a guard against disease as in current times, but so festival-goers could hide their identities and do as they pleased.
On Saturday, only a few people were seen wearing costumes and the mood was more subdued than usual, but this is expected to change in the coming days as this year’s edition, entitled “Remember the Future”, gets going.
“I’m sorry not to see the (Venetian Carnival) masks that I would have expected, but it’s a restart,” said Ketty Milano, a Venice resident.
The Carnival is due to run until March 1.
(Reporting by Gabriele Pileri; Writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Frances Kerry)