Another COVID Christmas brings fear, but also optimism

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Alona Nacua, right, stands next to her son as she looks at her house damaged by Typhoon Rai on Christmas Day, Saturday, December 25, 2021 in Cebu City, central Philippines. Nacua said she and her husband managed to get rice and four small cans of sardines and corned beef to feed their family on Saturday. “It’s the saddest Christmas for me to see my children suffer so much that day,” added the pregnant Nacua. (AP Photo / Jay Labra)

AP

Christmas came on Saturday around the world amid a surge in COVID-19 infections that kept many families apart, overwhelmed hospitals and curtailed religious customs as the pandemic was set to stretch into a third year.

Still, there were hopeful sermons as vaccines and other treatments become more available.

Pope Francis used his Christmas address to pray for more vaccines to reach the poorest countries. While affluent countries have vaccinated up to 90% of their adult populations, 8.9% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated, making it the least vaccinated continent in the world.

Only a few thousand well-wishers came to his midday speech and blessing, but even that was better than last year when the Italian Christmas lockdown came to Francis for the annual “Urbi et Orbi” (“For the city and the world”) force. Speech.

“Give health to the sick and inspire all men and women of good will to seek the best possible ways to overcome the current health crisis and its effects,” said Francis of St. Peter’s Loggia. “Open hearts to ensure that necessary medical care – and vaccines in particular – are provided to the people who need them most.”

In the United States, many churches canceled face-to-face services, but clergy reported fewer but significant attendance for those conducting face-to-face services.

“Our hopes for a normal Christmas holiday have been dampened by Omicron this year … still full of uncertainties and threats overshadowing us,” Rev. Ken Boller told his parishioners during midnight mass at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. “Breakthrough used to be a happy word for us until it was associated with COVID. And in the middle of it all we celebrate Christmas. “

Rev. Alex Karloutsos of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church of the Hamptons in Southampton, New York, said attendance at the Christmas Eve liturgy was a third less than last year because “the reality of the Omicron virus reduces the crowd, but not the fervor of the believers present. “

Because of a church fire that year, St. Patrick’s Church in Hubbard, Ohio, held mass in a nearby high school on Christmas Eve. The mass drew about 550 people, said Youngstown Bishop David Bonnar, who presided over it.

In the UK, Queen Elizabeth II noted another year of pain – especially personally after losing her husband Prince Philip in April – and urged people to celebrate with friends and family.

“While it is a time of great happiness and good humor for many, Christmas can be tough for those who have lost loved ones,” the Queen said on the taped message as many British families enjoyed their traditional Christmas dinner. “Especially this year I understand why.”

Thousands of people across the UK received a booster for Christmas when new cases hit another daily record of 122,186. Good Health Pharmacy in north London was one of dozen locations that stayed open on Saturday to give jingle jabs while the government pushed for booster injections to be offered to all adults by the end of the year.

The head of the intensive care unit at a hospital in Marseille, France, said most COVID-19 patients had been unvaccinated over Christmas while staff were exhausted or unable to work due to an infection.

“We’re sick of it,” said Dr. Julien Carvelli, the chief of intensive care at La Timone Hospital, when his team spent another Christmas Eve tending to COVID-19 patients on ventilators. “We are afraid that we don’t have enough space.”

Across the world, hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, spent Christmas with no houses, electricity, or enough food and water after a violent typhoon last week killed at least 375 people and devastated most of the central island’s 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, asked for help. He was glad that many Filipinos were able to celebrate Christmas more safely after the COVID-19 cases fell, but he pleaded, “Please don’t forget us.”

At least one American Christmas tradition was revived after the pandemic brought it online last year: the annual reenactment of George Washington’s daring crossing of the Delaware River in 1776. Reenactors in three boats completed the crossing in about an hour on Saturday. The crowd went in the hundreds, less than the usual thousands.

The COVID-19 tests continued unhindered in some locations while others were closed for the day.

The queues that had wrapped around the block at a small testing center in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood for the past few days shrank significantly on Saturday when the only customers inside were Shayna Prihoda and Michael Boundy whose negative tests freed them Visiting Boundy’s parents in Michigan.

“We would have stayed home and quarantined,” said Boundy.

Soaring case numbers in Florida made tests almost as popular as Christmas ham. Florida set a new fall record for the second year in a row.

Hours before a test site opened at Miami Tropical Park, dozens of cars were lined up. To curb demand, circuit workers distributed 12,500 test kits at home in libraries on Friday.

Most of New York City’s 120 test locations were closed on Saturday, the day after police were called to a Brooklyn neighborhood to suppress an angry crowd who expected to be given free home test kits just for the sake of the Having used up supplies.

Chairs at some dining tables became empty after airlines around the world canceled hundreds of flights as the Omicron variant messed up flight schedules and reduced staff.

Airlines around the world have canceled nearly 6,000 flights scheduled for Friday, Saturday or Sunday, with nearly a third affecting US flights, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking website.

At a reception center for asylum seekers in Cyprus, Patricia Etoh, a Catholic from Cameroon, said she had no special plans because it just didn’t feel like Christmas without her 6-year-old child she had to leave behind.

But she added, “We are grateful, we live, and when we live there is hope.”

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Winfield reported from Rome, Tarm from Chicago and Smith from Pittsburgh. Contributors to this report were Associated Press authors Bobby Caina Calvan and Larry Neumeister in New York, Michael Schneider in Miami, Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Danica Kirka in London, Jim Gomez in Manila, and Daniel Cole in Marseille, France.


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