Health

COVID-19 casts bleak shadow over New Year celebrations, again

Global
coronavirus infections hit a record high over the past seven-day period, with
almost one million cases detected on average each day worldwide between Dec 23
and 29, some 100,000 up on the previous peak posted on Wednesday, according to
Reuters data.

Numerous
nations registered all-time highs during the previous 24 hours, including
Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, the United States, France and Italy, as the
all-conquering omicron variant spread like wildfire.

Although
studies have suggested it is less deadly than some previous variants, many
health authorities were taking no chances, telling people the best way to see
in 2022 was at home with very few guests – preferably all vaccinated.

In Europe,
where almost one million people have died of coronavirus over the past 12
months, traditional concerts and firework displays that typically draw
thousands of people on to the streets were cancelled in most major cities,
including London, Paris, Zurich, Brussels, Warsaw and Rome.

Indian
authorities started to impose stringent rules on Thursday to prevent mass
gatherings, with night curfews imposed in all major cities and restaurants
ordered to limit customers.

“It is
being seen that social gatherings are going on in an unrestricted manner with
people flouting all social distancing norms,” said Rajesh Tope, the health
minister of the western state of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital.

MASS
CANCELLATIONS

Earlier this
week, World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
urged people to rethink their party plans. “It’s better to cancel now and
celebrate later, than to celebrate now and grieve later,” he said.

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However,
despite spiking cases, some places are ploughing ahead with events regardless,
including Sydney, the first major city to usher in the New Year, which is
hosting its annual fireworks spectacular over the Opera House and Harbour
Bridge.

Last year,
the state banned crowds from attending the fireworks, when case numbers were in
the low 100s, compared with more than 12,000 new infections reported on
Thursday.

Likewise,
New York said it would hold its Times Square party, albeit in a scaled-back
version, with far fewer people allowed to watch as the iconic, giant ball drops
down a pole to mark the arrival of 2022.

US
infectious disease official Dr Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that family
gatherings where everyone was vaccinated should be all right, but cautioned
that large-scale parties were still too dangerous.

“If
your plans are to go to a 40-to-50-person New Year’s Eve party with all the
bells and whistles, and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a
happy new year, I would strongly recommend that this year we do not do
that,” he said.

Many people
have taken the warnings to heart, leaving restaurants and hotels to count the
cost of mass cancellations.

Cancelled
bookings in Spain’s capital would cost the hospitality industry some 350
million euros, 3 percent of annual revenues, said Jose Antonio Aparicio, the
president of Hosteleria Madrid, an industry association.

In Italy,
restaurant and club owners called for urgent government support, saying 25
percent-30 percent of New Year’s Eve dinner bookings had been pulled.

“December
… which alone accounts for 10 percent of restaurant revenues, is largely
compromised,” said business group Fipe-Confcommercio.

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