MADRID (Reuters) - Muted celebrations on Tuesday greeted the draw for Spain's annual El Gordo lottery, with the usual live audience absent from Madrid's Royal Theatre and COVID curbs also thinning the often flamboyantly dressed crowds outside to a handful of onlookers.
Continuing a two-centuries-old tradition that kicks off the festive season, children sang out the winning numbers, including a first prize potentially worth 688 million euros ($842 million).
"We didn't want to miss this chance to be here and feel, although from a distance, the magic of the children and the balls being drawn - and hoping to win a prize," said Juan Lopez, 39, dressed as a bishop, outside the theatre before the draw.
Spain's capital is an epicentre of the coronavirus in a country where it has infected more than 1,800,000 people and killed close to 50,000 - one of Europe's worst outbreaks. Nighttime curfews are in place across the country and there are tight restrictions on public gatherings.
This year's El Gordo prize fund totalled 2.4 billion euros.
Most people buy small fractions of full tickets, with the most common purchase, a 20 euro share, offering a top prize of 400,000 euros ($490,000).
With COVID closing bars and offices for much of the year, the lottery raised 2.6 billion euros in sales, 11% less than last year, the state body that runs it said.
Shares in this year's first prize ticket, 72897, were sold by kiosks in many cities. One of this year's most sought-after numbers - 14320, to mark the country's March 14 lockdown - won nothing.
($1 = 0.8171 euros)
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Additional Reporting by Silvio Castellanos and Guillermo Martinez; Editing by Andrei Khalip and John Stonestreet)