COVID-19 fears trigger more cancellations over the holidays

BOSTON – The nation’s second-largest city canceled its New Years celebration on Monday, and its smaller state reimposed an indoor mask mandate as the omicron variant edged out other variants to become the dominant version of the coronavirus in the states -United

Omicron accounted for 73% of new infections last week, nearly six times more in just one week, federal health officials said. The variant was first reported in southern Africa just over three weeks ago.

In much of the United States, the prevalence of omicron is even higher. It is responsible for about 90% of new infections in the New York City area, the Southeast, the Industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, officials said.

Scientists say omicron spreads more easily than other strains of coronavirus, including delta, although many details about it remain unknown, especially if it causes more or less severe illness. But even if it’s milder, the new variant could still overwhelm healthcare systems due to the sheer number of infections.

The rapid spread of omicron has heightened fears of a potentially devastating winter wave of COVID-19, which has triggered more cancellations and restrictions ahead of the holidays.

Organizers of the New Years Eve party planned for the Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles have rejected plans for an in-person audience, saying the event will instead be broadcast live, as it was the year before. last. In Rhode Island, which has the most new cases per capita over the past two weeks, masks or proof of vaccination will be required at most facilities covered for at least the next 30 days.

And in Boston, the city’s new Democratic mayor announced to howls of protests and taunts 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 make sure we take care of each other,” Mayor Michelle Wu said at city hall as protesters hissed loudly and shouted “Shame to Wu “.

Erika Rusley, a 44-year-old resident of Providence, Rhode Island, says recent events have prompted her family to curb daily activities.

The elementary school teacher and her doctor husband pulled their two young daughters out of swimming lessons this week, limited their play dates and canceled medical appointments, even though the whole family is fully immunized.

“Last week we really shut it down. It just isn’t worth it,” Rusley said. “We’re back to where we were before the summer, before the vaccination. It’s almost square one.”

In New York City, where a spike in infections is already scuttling Broadway shows and causing long lines at testing centers, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to decide this week whether the city’s famous New Years party to Times Square will return “at full force” as it promised in November.

North of the border, the Canadian province of Quebec imposed a closing time for restaurants at 10 p.m., banned spectators from sporting events and closed gymnasiums and schools, and made remote working compulsory.

Across the Atlantic, the World Economic Forum said on Monday it would again delay its annual meeting of world leaders, business leaders and other elites in Davos, Switzerland.

But in Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday authorities had decided not to impose further restrictions, at least for now.

The Conservative government re-imposed face masks in stores and ordered people to show proof of vaccination at nightclubs and other crowded places earlier this month. It is weighing curfews and stricter social distancing requirements.

“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking other measures to protect the public,” he said. “The arguments are very, very finely balanced anyway.”

Johnson’s warning highlights the unpleasant choice facing government leaders: to derail the vacation plans of millions for the second year in a row, or to face a potential tidal wave of cases and cases. disturbances.

In the United States, President Joe Biden planned to address the nation on the latest variant on Tuesday, less than a year after suggesting the country would be essentially back to normal by Christmas.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president would issue a “stern warning” and make it clear that unvaccinated people “will continue to cause hospitalizations and deaths,” she said.

U.S. vaccine maker Moderna announced Monday that lab tests suggested that a booster dose of its vaccine should provide protection against omicron. Similar testing done by Pfizer on its vaccine also found that a boost triggered a big jump in anti-omicron antibodies.

The country is averaging nearly 130,500 new cases of COVID-19 per day, up from about 122,000 per day two weeks ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In Texas, a Houston hospital system reports that omicron already accounts for 82% of new symptomatic COVID-19 cases it treats, a dramatic increase from Friday, when tests showed it was only responsible for 45% of system cases.

But in Missouri, an early epicenter of the delta surge, the variant still accounts for 98% to 99% of COVID-19 samples, according to the state Department of Health and Aging Services.

Meanwhile, hospitals in Ohio, Maine and other states have postponed elective surgeries and governors have sent National Guard reinforcements to help hospital staff under siege in recent days.

In Kansas, rural hospitals are struggling to transfer patients, with some stranded in emergency rooms for a week while waiting for a bed. Overwhelmed hospitals as far away as Minnesota and Michigan have called for beds in major Kansas hospitals. Often there is simply no room.

“It’s already as crazy as it can be when you talk about moving people from Minnesota to Kansas City for treatment,” Dr Richard Watson, founder of Motient, a company that contracted for a contract said Friday. with Kansas to help manage transfers.

Yet many political leaders are reluctant to impose the strict measures they resorted to earlier in the pandemic.

France is desperately trying to avoid a new lockdown that would hurt the economy and darken President Emmanuel Macron’s expected re-election campaign. The Parisian government, however, has banned public concerts and fireworks during New Year’s celebrations.

Ireland has imposed an 8 p.m. curfew in pubs and bars and limited participation in indoor and outdoor events, while Greece will have 10,000 police officers on duty during the holidays to carry out COVID pass checks -19.

In Spain, where the national average of new cases is double what it was a year ago, the authorities are betting mainly on the compulsory wearing of the mask indoors, without any further restriction planned. Neighboring Portugal is simply telling most non-essential workers to work from home for a week in January.

In Britain, where the latest wave wiped out the economy in the busy pre-Christmas period, the government has so far placed its hopes in vaccine recalls. It has set up temporary clinics in football stadiums, shopping malls and cathedrals to meet the goal of giving everyone 18 and over an extra shot by the end of the month.

For Rusley’s family in Rhode Island, the news is disturbing, but not enough to dissuade them from a long-delayed trip to Denver to visit her husband’s family.

They are flying out after Christmas, but have decided they will spend time indoors only with people who have been vaccinated this holiday season, something they would not have considered just a few months ago.

“We’ve been here before and we know how to do this,” Rusley said. “We are not going to hide in our house, but at the same time, we are not going to take unnecessary risks.”


Lawless reported from London. Associated Press editors Colleen Long in Washington; John Antczak in Los Angeles; Mark Pratt in Boston; Juan Lozano in Houston; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho; Rob Gillies in Toronto; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Aritz Parra in Madrid; Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this story.


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