ROME (AP) – Christians around the world celebrated their second COVID-19 Christmas on Saturday with an increase in infections in many countries crushing hospitals, canceling flights and limiting religious observances, even as coronavirus vaccines were more available than ever.
While some countries in Asia have imposed restrictions in an attempt to contain the highly contagious variant of omicron, governments in Europe, the United States and elsewhere have preached common sense despite reporting record daily cases. this week, advising their citizens to use masks and voluntarily limit the size of holiday gatherings. .
The head of intensive care at a hospital in Marseille, France, said most COVID-19 patients there over Christmas were not vaccinated, while his staff are exhausted or unable to work because they are infected.
“We are fed up with this,” said Dr Julien Carvelli, head of intensive care at La Timone hospital in Marseille, as his team spent another Christmas Eve treating COVID-19 patients on breathing apparatus . “We are afraid that we will not have enough space.”
Thousands of people across England received a Christmas vaccine booster as new cases in Britain hit another daily high of 122,186. The Good Health Pharmacy in north London was one of dozens of vaccination sites that kept their doors open on Saturday to administer ‘jingle jabs Amid government pressure to offer reminders to all adults by the end of the year.
In the United States, many churches have canceled scheduled in-person Christmas services, and for those that had in-person worship, the clergy reported lower but significant attendance.
At the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary in the Hamptons in Southampton, New York, Christmas Eve liturgy attendance “was a third lower than last year, the reality of the omicron virus decreasing the crowd, but not the fervor of the faithful present. Said Pastor Reverend Alex Karloutsos.
Pope Francis used his Christmas address to pray that some of these vaccines reach poorer countries. While rich countries have vaccinated up to 90% of their adult population, 8.9% of Africans are fully vaccinated, making it the least vaccinated continent in the world,
“Grant health to the infirm and inspire all men and women of good will to seek the best possible means to overcome the current health crisis and its effects,” Francis said from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Open hearted to ensure that necessary medical care – and vaccines in particular – are provided to those who need it most. “
Only a few thousand supporters came for his midday speech and blessing, but even that was better than last year, when the Christmas lockdown in Italy forced Francis inside for the annual ‘Urbi et Orbi’ speech. (To the city and to the world).
At a reception center for asylum seekers on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Patricia Etoh, a Cameroonian Catholic, said she had no special plans because it just didn’t look like Christmas without her child 6-year-old, who she had to leave behind.
But she added: “We are thankful, we are alive, and when we are alive, there is hope.”
Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, spent Christmas without a home, electricity, adequate food or water after a powerful typhoon struck minus 375 died last week and devastated most of the time. central island provinces.
Governor Arthur Yap of the hard-hit Bohol province, where more than 100 people died in the typhoon and around 150,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, called on foreign aid agencies to help provide temporary shelter and water filtration systems to supplement Philippine government assistance.
“There is an overwhelming fear. There are no gifts, there have been no Christmas Eve dinners. There is none of that today, ”Yap told The Associated Press.
Yap said he was happy that many Filipinos could celebrate Christmas in a safer way after COVID-19 cases fell, but he begged, “Please don’t forget us.”
In South Korea, social distancing rules required churches to limit worshipers to 70 percent of their capacity, and service participants had to be fully immunized.
South Korea has been grappling with a spike in infections and deaths since it significantly relaxed its virus brakes in early November as part of efforts to get back to normal before the pandemic. The country was ultimately forced to reinstate its strictest distancing guidelines, including a four-person limit for social gatherings and a 9 p.m. curfew for restaurants and cafes.
Australia also had a Christmas with a surge of cases of COVID-19, its worst of the pandemic, which has forced states to reinstate mask warrants and other measures.
Christmas celebrations have been subdued across much of India, with more decorations than crowds: authorities reintroduced nighttime curfews and restrictions on gatherings of more than five people in big cities like New Delhi and Mumbai. People attended midnight mass in Mumbai and elsewhere, but in smaller numbers.
Adding to the usual stress of vacation travel, airlines around the world have canceled hundreds of flights as the omicron variant scrambled schedules and downsized.
According to FlightAware, more than 3,900 flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday have been canceled, nearly half of which involve Chinese airlines. About 30% of the affected flights – more than 1,100 – were to, from or within the United States.
Cancellations still represented a small fraction of global flights. FlightAware says it has tracked more than 100,000 arrivals in 24 hours.
As the pandemic has spread around the world over the past two years, New Zealand has used its isolation to its advantage. Border controls have kept the worst of the virus at bay. This Christmas, New Zealand had recorded 50 deaths out of a population of 5.5 million.
New Zealanders enjoyed vacations in the heat of midsummer with few restrictions. Their country has one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, with 95% of adults having received at least one dose. The country is also one of the few to be largely spared by the omicron.
But this success comes at a price. There were empty chairs at some family tables this holiday season because some New Zealanders living and working abroad were unable to return home due to isolation and quarantine requirements.
In Fiji, many members of the deeply religious nation will celebrate Christmas at traditional church services and family reunions. The Pacific Island is experiencing an ongoing epidemic and a pandemic death toll of nearly 700, but 92% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
Health Secretary James Fong in a Christmas message urged Fijians to “please celebrate wisely”.
In the remote province of Macuata, residents of four villages received a special Christmas present: electricity was connected to their villages for the first time.
AP journalists contributed from around the world.