Coronavirus fears trigger more holiday cancellations, restrictions
The nation’s second-largest city called off its New Year’s Eve celebration Monday, and its smallest state reimposed an indoor mask mandate as fears of a potentially devastating winter COVID-19 surge triggered more cancellations and restrictions ahead of the holidays.
Organizers of the New Year’s Eve party planned for downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Park say there will not be an inperson audience. The event will be livestreamed instead, as it was last year. In Rhode Island, a mask mandate took effect Monday for indoor spaces that can hold 250 people or more, such as larger retail stores and churches.
And in Boston, the city’s new Democratic mayor announced to howls of protests and jeers that anyone entering a restaurant, bar or other indoor business will need to show proof of vaccination starting next month.
“There is nothing more American than coming together to ensure that we’re taking care of each other,” Mayor Michelle Wu said at City Hall as protesters loudly blew whistles and shouted “Shame on Wu.”
Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said officials have decided against imposing further restrictions, at least for now.
“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public,” Johnson said. “The arguments either way are very, very finely balanced.”
The conservative government reimposed face masks in shops and ordered people to show proof of vaccination at nightclubs and other crowded venues earlier this month. It is also weighing curfews and stricter social distancing requirements.
In the U.S., President Joe Biden is set to address the nation on the latest variant on Tuesday, less than a year after he suggested that the country would essentially be back to normal by Christmas.
His top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made the rounds on television over the weekend, promising that the Democrat will issue “a stark warning of what the winter will look like” for unvaccinated Americans.
Cases are surging in parts of the U.S., particularly the Northeast and Midwest, though it’s not always clear which variant is driving the upswing.
In New York City, where the mayor has said the new variant is already in “full force,” a spike is scuttling Broadway shows and spurring long lines at testing centers, but so far new hospitalizations and deaths are averaging well below their spring 2020 peak.
The city is also weighing what to do with its famous New Year’s Eve bash in Times Square. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said a decision will be made this week about whether the event will come back “full strength” — with attendees providing proof of vaccination — as he promised in November. Last year’s bash was limited to small groups of essential workers.
Much about the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say omicron spreads even easier than other coronavirus strains, including delta, and it is expected to become dominant in the U.S. by early next year. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing an omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.
U.S. vaccine maker Moderna said Monday that lab tests suggested that a booster dose of its vaccine should offer protection against omicron. Similar testing by Pfizer also found that a booster triggered a big jump in omicron-fighting antibodies.
But many scientists say boosters along are not enough and tougher action is needed.