Lhe masked Santa Claus, small family reunions, lonely and isolated people for the holidays because of a positive test… This Christmas is not a real Christmas, like those we could experience before the arrival of the Covid-19. This year, the main threat is the Omicron variant which, despite vaccination, has gained ground and represents, in most countries, the majority of contaminations. Large family, festive and religious reunions are disrupted.
Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing is scheduled from noon from St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. The 85-year-old Argentine pontiff presided over the traditional Christmas mass on Friday evening in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in front of some 2,000 masked people. He notably invited the faithful to “rediscover the little things in life” in a new plea for humility.
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Ambassadors and representatives of other Christian denominations attended this ceremony celebrated in several languages in the presence of more than 200 priests, bishops and cardinals, also masked. A few dozen people who did not obtain a ticket followed the mass on giant screens installed in Saint-Pierre Square.
In Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank, several hundred people gathered, despite the cold, in Manger Square to follow a parade of Palestinian scouts. Wading through a puddle, Father Ricardo Virtudazo celebrated Christmas mass in his church in the Philippines damaged by Typhoon Rai which recently left nearly 400 dead and tens of thousands homeless. Dozens of worshipers prayed for shelter and food and for good weather. “What’s important is that we are all safe and sound,” says Joy Parera, who and her husband attend mass at San Isidro Labrador Church in Alegria, on the island of Mindanao.
Airlines have had to cancel more than 2,300 flights worldwide, including nearly a quarter in the United States, especially in the face of the Omicron variant which disrupts travel during the holidays. Millions of Americans have nevertheless crisscrossed their country, while the Omicron wave already exceeds the peak of the Delta variant, with 171,000 daily cases on average over seven days, and hospitals are saturated.
The surge in infections put a chill on the festivities. Gatherings are generally easier than in 2020 even though the Netherlands is confined, Broadway canceled Christmas shows in New York and Spain and Greece reintroduced the mandatory mask outside.
READ ALSOCovid-19: fewer hospitalizations with Omicron than with DeltaFrance crossed the barrier of 94,000 new cases on Friday, a level unprecedented since the start of the epidemic in March 2020, according to figures from Public Health France. The United Kingdom, also facing a meteoric spread of Omicron, on Friday recorded more than 122,000 additional cases, a new record.
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Fragment of hope
Most Australians can travel to their country again, 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. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney (South East) Anthony Fisher praised in his Christmas message the « moving scenes of people meeting at airports after months of separation ».
In Latin America, outgoing Chilean President Sebastian Piñera announced that his country would administer a fourth dose of vaccine against the coronavirus from February, starting with the risk categories. And in Ecuador, the anti-Covid vaccination is now compulsory from the age of five, a world first for this age group. So far, only a handful of countries have made vaccination compulsory.
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The pandemic has killed at least 5,385,564 people around the world since the end of 2019, according to a report established by Agence France-Presse from official sources on Friday. The World Health Organization estimates that the real toll could be two to three times higher. The epidemic has further accelerated in almost all regions of the world over the past week, except the Middle East and Asia, according to AFP databases. But border closures and restrictions haven’t stopped a famous reindeer sleigh from roaming the globe.
The Canadian Minister of Transport had given the green light to the crew of Santa Claus. Same thoughtfulness on the Australian side: « Our air traffic controllers will guide Santa Claus safely in Australian airspace, » said the Air Safety Authority.
In Brazil, a black Santa Claus arrived by helicopter distributed food packages to the inhabitants of the favela of Penha, in Rio de Janeiro (South-East). “The children look at me, smile, play, talk. They feel represented seeing a black Santa Claus, ”said Leonardo Pereira da Silva, 30, favela resident and member of the NGO Central unicas das favelas (CUFA).