Millions of people are facing travel disruptions and increased Covid restrictions at Christmas as flights are canceled and safety limits tightened in the emerging Omicron version.
Italy, Spain and Greece have once again made it mandatory to wear a face mask outdoors.
A night curfew has been imposed in Catalonia in northern Spain and a strict closure in the Netherlands.
Despite early discoveries that Omicron is milder than other versions, scientists are concerned about the number of cases.
A record number of infections were reported in the UK, France and Italy on Thursday.
In the United States, daily Omicron cases have surpassed the peak of the recent Delta wave, and hospitals across the country are filling up.
“When there are millions, millions and millions of patients, all of them sick at the same time, it doesn’t take a big percentage of these people to fall in hospitals,” said Dr. Hallie Prescott, an associate professor of internal medicine. The University of Michigan, he told the New York Times.
America’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned earlier this week that Christmas travel would increase the spread of the variant, even among those who were fully vaccinated.
On Christmas Eve (Friday), U.S. airlines said they were already suffering from a labor shortage as flight crews tested positive or were forced to isolate themselves.
According to United Airlines, the growing number of Omicron cases “had a direct impact on our flight crew and the people in charge of our operation,” adding that it had contacted the passengers concerned before they arrived at the airport.
Hundreds of U.S. flights scheduled for December 24 have been canceled, according to the FlightAware website.
The United States will lift travel restrictions on eight African countries on December 31 due to concerns about the Omicron variant, the White House confirmed.
Travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatina, Mozambique and Malawi have been blocked since 29 November.
In Australia, too, thousands of holiday trips were affected on Friday as more than 100 domestic flights were canceled from Sydney and Melbourne to other cities.
A Jetstar spokesman responsible for most flight cancellations said the airline had “covered the vast majority of affected passengers” within a few hours of their original departure time to reach their destination in time for Christmas.
Despite the upheaval, many Australians are celebrating the fact that, for the first time in two years, they will be able to travel between states during the holidays.
This came after Australia announced that it would reduce the waiting period between the second injection and the booster for people over 18 to four months from 4 January. At the end of the month, the gap continues to narrow to three months.
South Korea, Thailand and the UK reduced the time between recordings to three months in December.
In the UK, where the strike is expected to disrupt train traffic on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to carry out a reinforcing stab in line with the festive ‘spirit of the neighborhood’.
“Although in theory, it’s running out of time to buy a gift,” he said, “there’s still one wonderful thing you can give away to your family and the whole country, and that is to get that sting, whether it’s your first or second, or your booster.”
Mr Johnson ruled out the possibility of introducing new restrictions in England before Christmas, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all announced a curb to social mixing.
Several European countries are preparing to introduce restrictions immediately after the holiday season, including Germany, which will restrict private gatherings to 10 and close nightclubs from 28 December. Football matches are also held behind closed doors.
Portugal has ordered the closure of bars and nightclubs from 26 December and made work from home compulsory until 9 January.
According to Johns Hopkins, more than 5.3 million people worldwide have died from coronavirus. More than 278 million confirmed cases were registered.
In Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born, the midnight Mass will be held again as a restrained event, without the thousands of pilgrims gathered before the epidemic.
However, Pope Francis will continue to present from St. Peter’s Basilica at midnight on Christmas Eve