The world braces for a second Christmas clouded by the pandemic

Billions of people around the world are preparing to celebrate a Christmas darkened by COVID-19 and the explosion of cases linked to the Omicron variant on Friday, which is causing many restrictions on the time of family reunions.

In Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank, several hundred people gathered in the early afternoon, despite the cold and the overcast sky, in Manger Square to follow a parade of Palestinian scouts, berets with pompoms on the street. head.

The sound of drums and bagpipes brought a bit of gaiety to this square which adjoins the Basilica of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus according to Christian tradition.

As in 2020, midnight mass will be reserved there for a small circle of faithful, by invitation only. It is to be celebrated by the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

In the Vatican, the traditional Christmas Mass will be presided over by Pope Francis at 7:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. Eastern Time) in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, before the eighth Urbi et Orbi blessing of the Sovereign Pontiff the next day. Argentinian from St. Peter’s Square.

Elsewhere in the world, the surge in COVID-19 infections is casting a chill on party plans. Gatherings will generally be smoother than last year, even as the Netherlands is confined, Broadway canceled Christmas shows, and Spain and Greece reintroduced the mandatory outdoor mask.

Millions of Americans are preparing to cross their country, although the Omicron wave already exceeds the peak of the Delta variant, with 171,000 daily cases on average over seven days, and hospitals are running out of beds.

The journeys could prove complicated for many of them, with the main company, United, having announced the cancellation of 120 flights due to the impact of the pandemic on its staff.

The White House for its part announced that travel restrictions on eight African countries would be lifted on December 31.

Morocco, for its part, extended until the end of January the closure of its air borders, in force since November 29.

“Fragment of hope”

Most Australians can once again travel within the country, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, reinforcing the Christmas spirit in a country which is yet experiencing a record number of contaminations.

“We have all witnessed moving scenes of people finding themselves in airports after months of separation,” said the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, in his Christmas message.

For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a vaccination certificate would be the most beautiful effect at the foot of the tree, while the United Kingdom on Thursday recorded nearly 120,000 additional cases of Covid-19, a new record.

“While the time to buy gifts is theoretically running out, there is still one wonderful thing you can give to your family and to the whole country, and that is to get that dose, whether it is your first or your second, or your encore, so that next year’s festivities are even better than this year’s, ”he said.

In France, the number of tests carried out by French people wanting to find their loved ones for Christmas reached a record of more than 6.2 million for last week. And another record broken, with 91,608 confirmed cases on Thursday.

The pandemic has killed at least 5,385,564 people around the world since the end of 2019, according to a report established by AFP from official sources on Friday.

Sign of an ambient gloom, the most popular program on Netflix, “Unforgivable”, tells, far from a Christmas tale, the difficulty of redemption after years in prison for murder.

And on Spotify, the indestructible All I want for Christmas is you was replaced by a song about a rude breakup.

The symbols of Christmas resist, however. Border closures and restrictions will not, however, prevent a famous reindeer-drawn sleigh from roaming the globe, as Canadian airspace has been opened to it.

This was assured by the Minister of Transport in Ottawa, giving a green light to the crew, even to Rudolph whose “nose was shining brightly (but) made sure he had no symptoms. of COVID-19 before taking off ”.

Same thoughtfulness on the Australian side: “our air traffic controllers will guide Santa Claus safely in Australian airspace (..)”, said the Air Safety Authority.

“He is authorized to fly at 500 feet so he can graze the rooftops and deliver his gifts quickly and discreetly. After all, his magic sled is no ordinary plane. “

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