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AP PHOTOS: Cyprus keeps Carnival spirit alive amid COVID-19

Carnival is usually the highlight of the year for Cyprus, when residents let loose in bizarre and colorful costumes, joyfully dancing and celebrating during the Mediterranean island nation's biggest annual party scene.

Following 10 days of festivities in the cosmopolitan town of Limassol, the grand parade on the eve of the start of Lent — 40 days of fasting before Easter — usually attracts tens of thousands to indulge in an eight-hour feast for the ears, eyes and stomach.

Revelers in every conceivable costume march along elaborately festooned floats that often mock the country’s rich and powerful.

Carnival figures with a sign showing the dates of 2020 carnival celebrations, stacked in a warehouse in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities.(AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

But in the COVID-19 era, the revelry has taken a backseat to lockdowns and bans on public gatherings. Although the parade went ahead last year, this year carnival's floats, huge puppets and other decorations are sitting in warehouses.

But Limassol city authorities aren’t letting the festive spirit completely wither away, organizing some events that comply with virus restrictions. The culmination of this is the secret outing of King Carnival, the lead float that marks the season's annual theme.

Skevi Antoniadou, a city official in charge of organizing the Carnival festivities, said the float, which has an abstract figure frozen in a dancing pose, will make the rounds of Limassol’s main thoroughfares without prior notice to avoid mass gatherings. One excursion on Thursday signaled the start of festivities. The second one will be on March 14.

Stelios Kolonas, wearing a face mask, worker of carnival preparations stands next of carnival figures stacked in a warehouse in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

The exact route will remain a secret and police will be out to discourage people from gathering in large numbers.

“The message to all is that we’re looking forward to having you back next year, because we’ll bounce back from this even stronger,” Antoniadou said.

Carnival festivities in Cyprus go back centuries and have evolved over time from simple home gatherings to the massive street party. One staple is Limassol’s famous street singers, still known as Cantadori — a derivative of the Spanish equivalent — who dress up and walk the streets with guitars and mandolins, singing festive songs.

Stelios Kolonas, wearing a face mask, worker of carnival preparations stands next of carnival figures stacked in a warehouse in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Antoniadou said a key element of Carnival is the tremendous revenue that it generates for the town. He said hotels are usually completely booked for the 10-day period, with hair salons, restaurants and costume makers also super busy.

“The carnival is all about the joy it offers, but the financial aspect is also important to the town and its people,” he said.

This year’s limited festivities spent only a fraction of the approximately 350,000-euro ($417,000) annual budget, with much of the money going to out-of-work artists.

Skevi Antoniadou municipality official in charge of organizing Carnival festivities, takes a makeup before a carnival parade at a warehouse in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities.(AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic,https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Giorgos Nikolaou wearing a protective face mask, and carnival costume prepares before a carnival parade at a carnival warehouse in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Skevi Antoniadou municipality official in charge of organizing Carnival festivities, wearing a face mask and carnival costume, walks inside a warehouse with stacked carnival figures in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities.(AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Skevi Antoniadou municipality official in charge of organizing Carnival festivities, wearing a face mask and carnival costume, walks inside a warehouse with stacked carnival figures in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities.(AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Giorgos Nikolaou wearing a protective face mask and carnival costume, prepares before a carnival parade at a warehouse with stacked carnival figures in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Stelios Kolonas worker of carnival preparations wearing a face mask walks next to a carnival float parked outside a warehouse in the southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Carnival floats are parked at a warehouse in the southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has dampened celebrations this year. But Limassol city authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, organizing some events that comply with virus restrictions. The culmination of this is the secret outing of King Carnival, the lead float that marks the season's annual theme.(AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Skevi Antoniadou a municipality official in charge of organizing Carnival festivities carnival, gestures to onlookers as the main float of King Carnival passes along the main thoroughfares of the southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has dampened celebrations this year. But Limassol city authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, organizing some events that comply with virus restrictions. The culmination of this is the secret outing of King Carnival, the lead float that marks the season's annual theme. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

The main float of King Carnival is pulled along the main thoroughfares of the southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus Thursday, March 4, 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has dampened celebrations this year. Yet Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away. A series of events conforming to coronavirus health protocols will culminate with the secret outing of King Carnival, the lead float that marks the year's Carnival theme. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)

Skevi Antoniadou municipality official in charge of organizing Carnival festivities carnival walks by floats parked at a warehouse in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Thursday, March 4, 2021. Limassol's municipal authorities aren't letting the festive spirit completely wither away, as they're organizing a series of events conforming to coronavirus health safety protocols, culminating in an outing of King Carnival lead float that marks the theme of the entire period of festivities. (AP PhotoPetros Karadjias)