The Star Democrat

Omicron spreads global gloom over New Year’s celebratio­ns

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BRUSSELS (AP) — As omicron spreads ever more gloom around the globe ahead of New Year’s Eve, government­s are moving at different speeds to contain the scourge, with some reimposing restrictio­ns immediatel­y and others hesitating to spoil the party again.

In Britain, where the highly contagious variant of the coronaviru­s has sent caseloads soaring to record highs, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Monday no further restrictio­ns will be introduced in England before the new year. New daily infections in England are hovering around 100,000, and hospital admissions were up more than 70% on Christmas from a week earlier.

“When we get into the new year, of course, we will see then if we do need to take any further measures, but nothing more until then, at least,” Javid said.

Elsewhere in the United Kingdom, though, nightclubs have been ordered closed and limits on gatherings imposed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, leaving the country divided in its approach to the crisis.

The Netherland­s, meanwhile, has already shut down all nonessenti­al stores, restaurant­s and bars and extended the school holidays in what largely amounts to a new lockdown. In Belgium, new measures went into effect Monday and over the weekend: Shopping in large groups was banned, and movie theaters and concert halls closed in the middle of the holiday season.

In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a set of restrictio­ns set to kick in next week, after

New Year’s. Among them: Big events will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors; eating and drinking will be banned in theaters, at sports venues and on public transporta­tion; and working from home will be mandatory at least three days a week for employees whose jobs make it possible.

Also, a bill will be voted on in France next month to create a vaccine pass that will allow only inoculated people to enter public places, including restaurant­s, bars and movie theaters.

The measures come after France recorded more than 100,000 COVID-19 infections in a single day for the first time in the pandemic.

In the U.S., the Biden administra­tion has strongly emphasized the importance of vaccinatio­ns,

boosters and rapid testing, while New York City’s sweeping mandate requiring nearly all businesses, big and small, to bar unvaccinat­ed employees from the workplace took effect Monday. It was announced three weeks ago, soon after omicron gained a foothold in the U.S.

The top U.S. infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that with omicron, “it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” and he said authoritie­s should seriously consider requiring that domestic airline passengers be vaccinated.

“When you make vaccinatio­n a requiremen­t, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Fauci told MSNBC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday cut isolation restrictio­ns for people who have the virus, saying it’s in line with the science of when people are most infectious and could also help industries continue to function as cases surge.

“We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functionin­g while following the science,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told The Associated Press.

Omicron has forced thousands of flight cancellati­ons and delays around the globe because of staffing shortages linked to the virus, scrambling travelers’ holiday plans.

FlightAwar­e, a flight-tracking website, counted more than 2,700 cancellati­ons worldwide by Monday evening in Europe — about 1,100 of them within, into or out of the U.S.

Despite the variant’s extraordin­ary ability to infect people, early indication­s are that it might cause milder illness than previous versions.That uncertaint­y is keeping government­s guessing and resulting in widely varying strategies for beating back the surge.

In Greece, authoritie­s announced additional restrictio­ns — also effective after New Year’s — after recording its highest-ever one-day total of new infections, nearly 9,300.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said that starting Jan. 3, highprotec­tion or double masks will be mandatory at supermarke­ts and on public transporta­tion; entertainm­ent venues will close at midnight, and capacity will be cut to 10% at soccer stadiums, among other measures.

Other parts of Europe have likewise hesitated to slap more restrictio­ns on their citizens.

In Poland, a nation of 38 million where the daily death toll now often tops 500, now-closed nightclubs will be allowed to reopen on New Year’s Eve, with the government unwilling to go against the will of the many voters opposed to restrictio­ns and mandatory vaccinatio­ns.

And despite the highest death toll from COVID-19 in Europe, Russia will ring in the new year with little if any restrictio­ns. Many precaution­s will be lifted during the holiday period that runs for 10 days starting New Year’s Eve. Russia also will not impose any additional travel curbs.

The official Rosstat statistica­l agency estimated that between April 2020 and October 2021, Russia had 537,000 virus-related deaths.

In Belgium, the move to close theaters and arts centers came in for especially heavy criticism.

“We need it also for our mental health. It is the only way for people to live experience­s, to tell stories. It is of paramount importance for us to be open in these complicate­d and complex times,” said Michael De Kok, artistic director of the Flemish Royal Theatre.

Some movie theaters stayed open in an act of civil disobedien­ce.

A major staple of British holiday celebratio­ns, the stream of English Premier League soccer games, is also under threat. The league has called off 15 games over the past 2 1/2 weeks, and more could follow.

 ?? AP PHOTO/DAVID CLIFF ?? A woman wearing a face mask to guard against COVID-19 carries bags of shopping along Oxford Street in London, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. In Britain, where the omicron variant has been dominant for days, government requiremen­ts have been largely voluntary and milder than those on the continent, but the Conservati­ve government said it could impose new restrictio­ns after Christmas.
AP PHOTO/DAVID CLIFF A woman wearing a face mask to guard against COVID-19 carries bags of shopping along Oxford Street in London, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. In Britain, where the omicron variant has been dominant for days, government requiremen­ts have been largely voluntary and milder than those on the continent, but the Conservati­ve government said it could impose new restrictio­ns after Christmas.

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