Panaji, Feb 12 : Masks -- carnival masks and now Covid-19 masks -- will take the centre stage at the annual Carnival parade in Panaji on Saturday, as the colourful festival gets underway amid the shadow of the pandemic.
According to Goa Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar, the state government took the decision to organise the event, albeit at a low scale, in order to retain Goa's prominence on the tourism map and to beat competing destinations sucj as Kerala from catching up.
The Carnival, a state festival, will be held in the state's two major towns -- Panaji and Margao -- on two consecutive days. To negate the spread of the Covid-19 virus, 10,000 protective masks would be distributed at the festival parade, Ajgaonkar said.
"If we shut down the Carnival this year on account of Covid, we will regress as far as the tourism sector is concerned and we could lose to competing destinations like Kerala," Ajgaonkar said.
The minister said that the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the government would be strictly implemented, as he urged the tourists and locals who plan to attend the Carnival parade to maintain social distancing besides following other norms.
Ajgaonkar also said that the price of flight tickets to Goa from popular source destinations like Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Delhi around the Carnival season has tripled, indicating the interest that tourists have for the major event, which is unique to Goa.
"Carnival is a state festival. It gives Goa a national and international profile," he said.
The Goa government has allocated nearly Rs 50 lakh to the organisers of the two events for raising infrastructure for the festival as well as in form of prize money for various categories of events.
Carnival processions are symbolic to Goa's colonial Portuguese legacy and are held every year before the holy season of Lent, which is marked by fasting and an air of solemnity.
The festival, which involves a public celebration in the form of long, continuous parades of gaily coloured floats with masqueraded dancers, is led by King Momo or the king of the carnival, who is a locally chosen celebrity who is given a key to the city.
The mantle of King Momo this time round has been handed to Eric Dias, a portly entrepreneur who runs a restaurant in North Goa's popular Candolim beach belt.
"It will be a fun event. Eat, drink and be merry, but be responsible," Dias said.
A two-day entertainment event, 'Samba Square', will also be held simultaneously with the festival parade.
Panaji Mayor Uday Madkaikar has said that organising the Carnival this time round was a difficult affair considering the lack of adequate corporate funding on account of the pandemic.
"We know businesses are down because of the pandemic, but we are going ahead with the Carnival with what little we have managed to collect and with the support of the Goa government," Madkaikar said.