Rio de Janeiro is advancing with plans to hold its famed carnival in July 2021, the city's samba schools said Tuesday, after the coronavirus pandemic forced them to postpone it from February.

The new date, however, would depend on both the availability of a vaccine against Covid-19 and the Brazilian government accepting a proposal to declare a national holiday in July, said the group that organizes the annual carnival parade, the Independent League of Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro (LIESA).

"The samba schools decided that if there's a vaccine and if there's a holiday, the parade will be in July," said LIESA spokesman Vicente Dattoli.

"They held a meeting yesterday and, with everyone feeling more optimistic given the recent news of highly effective test vaccines, they felt that it was now possible to set a date" of July 11 and 12, he told AFP.

However, he added, "without a vaccine, forget the rest."

Carnival is typically held in February or March, just before the Christian observance of Lent.

But with Covid-19 ravaging Brazil, LIESA decided in September to postpone the 2021 edition indefinitely.

Brazil has the second-highest death toll in the pandemic, after the United States, with 166,000 people killed.

The Estacao Primeira de Mangueira samba school, pictured in February 2020, says it is still in wait-and-see mode
The Estacao Primeira de Mangueira samba school, pictured in February 2020, says it is still in wait-and-see mode AFP / MAURO PIMENTEL

Rio's carnival, the world's biggest, is an epidemiologist's nightmare in a pandemic: a festival of revelers dancing through the streets and crowding into the city's iconic "Sambadrome" for huge parades of scantily clad dancers, small armies of drummers and all-night partying.

The event draws millions of tourists to the beachside city each year.

The elite samba schools typically spend most of the year preparing.

Not all of them were confident enough in the new July date to launch their preparations.

One of the city's most storied samba schools, Mangueira, said it was still in wait-and-see mode.

"Mangueira hasn't done anything yet. We haven't even come up with our storyline," said spokesman Rubem Machado.

He said the ideal time-frame for preparing a full parade was nine months.

"But if we really run, six months is enough," he told AFP.

The pandemic has also forced Rio to cancel its annual New Year's Eve celebrations on Copacabana beach.