The world is about to ring another pandemic Christmas

The rise of the Omicron variant on Friday announced another pandemic-tinged Christmas for billions, with the arrival of Santa Claus and long-awaited family reunions overshadowed by the prospect of even more Covid restrictions.

Party jokes about reindeer having ‘herd immunity’ and millions of ‘home’ insulators may be thin, but the emergence of the ultra-infectious variant of Omicron means the pandemic is not going anywhere .

For the second year, the surge in infections has complicated Christmas plans from Sydney to Seville.

In Bethlehem – the Palestinian city occupied by Christians, according to Christians, the birthplace of Jesus – hoteliers who expected an influx of tourists were disappointed. After an almost total lockdown last year, Israel’s borders are closed again.

Only a few hundred huddled under gray skies in the city’s Manger Square to watch the Palestinian scouts and pipers pass by.

Under heavy police escort, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, arrived at the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where worshipers believe Christ was born.

But this year, like last year, the midnight mass on Christmas Eve will be reserved for a small circle of people by invitation only, and the Friday celebrations have been moderate.

“It’s a bit surreal,” US student Hudson Harder told AFP.

“There’s a selfish part where it’s like ‘Oh I can see this place so empty’ but on the other hand you feel for the stores, all the money they lose, it’s really pretty tragic. . “

“Burst of Hope”

In Europe, governments are reimposing poverty-inducing security measures that deplete Christmas fun for many.

The Netherlands are blocked again while Spain and Italy have made the wearing of masks compulsory outside.

And as Britain hit a record number of Covid-19 infections on Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested getting the vaccine as a Christmas present for loved ones.

In France, the government has urged people to receive booster shots just three months after the first shots, up from the currently suggested five months as it sought to combat the rapidly spreading Omicron.

Yet Christmas gatherings will be easier than a year ago in many other places around the world.

Most Australians are allowed interstate travel during the holidays for the first time in two years, with Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher saying Christmas was “a ray of light” in dark times.

Pope Francis must still deliver the traditional midnight mass on Christmas Eve from Saint Peter’s Basilica.

In an early Christmas giveaway, the United States said it would lift the travel ban on several countries in southern Africa next week when the Omicron variant was first detected.

Millions of Americans are on the move as Christmas approaches, even as Covid infections surpass the peak of the previous wave and hospitals run out of beds.

But thousands of them faced a bleak holiday weekend, with major carrier United canceling 120 flights because the number of infections affected flight crews and other operations.

Operation Present Drop

However, the angst over a seemingly never-ending crisis, long lines for tests, canceled flights, and close contact notifications won’t stop Santa from making his rounds.

The shaggy spreader of holiday cheer was reportedly cleared for travel through Canadian airspace after showing proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test before the flight, the Ottawa transport minister said.

Santa’s flight crew – including the reindeer Rudolph, whose “nose was glowing bright red (but) made sure he had no symptoms of Covid-19 before taking off” – also received the green light.

And Australian authorities have said they are working around the clock to ensure “Operation Present Drop” runs smoothly.

“Our air traffic controllers will guide Santa Claus safely through Australian airspace,” said Airservices, the air safety authority.

“He’s cleared to fly at 500 feet so he can roam the rooftops and deliver his gifts quickly and silently – after all, his magic sled is no ordinary plane.”

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