Omicron’s New Year’s cocktail: sadness, fear but hope for 2022


PARIS (AP) – Grief for the dead and dying, fear of new infections to come and hopes of ending the coronavirus pandemic were – once again – the bittersweet cocktail the world has says good riddance until 2021 and ushered in 2022.

New Years Eve, which was once celebrated around the world with a wild and free spirit, felt more like a deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant filling hospitals again.

At La Timone hospital in Marseille, in the south of France, Dr Fouad Bouzana could only sigh on Friday when asked what 2022 could bring.

“Big question,” he said. “It’s starting to get exhausting, as the waves follow one another.

The 2021 game-changing pandemic – vaccinations – continued at a steady pace, with some people receiving injections while others stocked up on drinks and treats for a moderate feast. Some milestones have been taken: Pakistan said it had fully immunized 70 million of its 220 million people this year and Britain said it had met its goal of offering a booster shot to all adults by Friday .

In Russia, President Vladimir Poutine mourned the dead, praised the Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “is not receding yet”. Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 deaths from COVID-19, but its national statistics agency says the death toll has been more than double.

“I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who have lost loved ones,” Putin said in a televised speech broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.

Elsewhere, the place many chose for New Year’s celebrations was the same place they became too familiar with during shutdowns: their homes. Due to omicron’s virulence, cities have canceled traditional New Year’s concerts and fireworks to avoid attracting large crowds.

Pope Francis has also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the full-size nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, again to avoid a crowd. In an unusual gesture for Francis, the 85-year-old pontiff donned a surgical mask for a Vespers prayer and hymn service on Friday night as he sat in an armchair. But he also gave a standing and unmasked homily.

“A sense of being lost has grown around the world during the pandemic,” Francis told worshipers at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Face masks became mandatory again on the streets of Paris on Friday, a rule largely ignored among the afternoon crowds that thronged the sun-drenched Champs-Elysees, where a scheduled fireworks display was canceled. With nearly 50% of intensive care beds in Ile-de-France occupied by COVID-19 patients, hospitals have been ordered to postpone non-essential surgeries.

France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among the countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.

France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases on Friday marked its third consecutive day above the 200,000 mark. The UK followed closely behind, with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said up to 1 in 15 people had been infected with the virus in the week leading up to Christmas. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the UK have increased 68% over the past week, to the highest levels since February.

Yet loud New Year’s celebrations kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. Large crowds gathered on Friday night for outdoor concerts, fireworks and a light show, and hotels and bars were packed. A medical expert has predicted that Serbia will experience thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.

More than 300,000 visitors were expected in Las Vegas for events including a New Year’s Eve fireworks display on the Strip that was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

Australia continued to celebrate despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit the sky over the Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House at midnight. Yet in the midst of the virus wave, crowds were much smaller than in the pre-pandemic years.

Neighboring New Zealand has taken a more low-key approach, replacing its fireworks show in Auckland with a show of lights projected on landmarks such as the Sky Tower and Harbor Bridge.

In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly as some stores would be closed. He said the vaccinations had made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new variant.

“Numbness has set in and we’re not too scared anymore,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take it for granted that this won’t happen to me.”

People thronged to temples and shrines, most of them wearing masks. Some ignored the virus, dining and drinking in downtown Tokyo and flocking to stores, celebrating their release from recent virus restrictions.

In Seoul, the capital of South Korea, the annual New Year’s Eve ringing ceremony was canceled for the second year in a row due to an increase in the number of cases, and a pre-recorded video was released online and on the television.

South Korean authorities have also shut down many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which are usually teeming with people hoping to witness the first sunrise of the year, and have extended the strict distancing rules by two weeks. additional.

In India, millions of people rang the bell at the start of the year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions making celebrations in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities. Authorities have imposed restrictions to keep revelers away from restaurants, hotels, beaches and bars amid an increase in omicron-fueled cases.

Many Indonesians have also given up their usual festivities for a quieter evening at home, after the government banned many New Year’s celebrations.

In Hong Kong, a New Years concert featuring local celebrities including boy group Mirror was the first big New Years event since 2018, after events were canceled in 2019 due to political disputes and last year because of the pandemic.

In mainland China, the Shanghai government has canceled an annual light show along the Huangpu River that typically draws hundreds of thousands of spectators. There was no plan for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or have limited access since mid-December.

Popular temples in eastern Chinese cities Nanjing, Hangzhou and other major cities have canceled the traditional New Year’s “luck ringing” ceremonies and asked the public to stay away.

In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out the basic necessities of tens of thousands before New Year’s Eve. More than 400 people were killed by Typhoon Rai and at least 82 are still missing.

Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home in a fire last month, then the typhoon swept away her temporary log cabin in Cebu City. She will welcome the New Year with her husband, who works in a glass and aluminum factory, and her 1-year-old baby in a dilapidated tent in a clearing where hundreds of other families have erected small tents from debris , sacks of rice and tarpaulins.

When asked what she wanted for the New Year, Singson made a simple wish: “Hope we don’t get sick.”

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Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.

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Associated Press reporters Daniel Cole in Marseille; Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow; Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Sylvia Hui in London; Darko Vojinovic in Belgrade, Serbia; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam; Zen Soo in Hong Kong; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; and AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.


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