Millions around the world have braced themselves for drastically-curtailed New Year celebrations as record coronavirus cases fuelled by the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm healthcare systems.
Coronavirus, first detected two years ago and declared a global pandemic in March 2020, has killed more than 5.4 million people, triggered economic crises and seen societies ricochet in and out of lockdowns. The latest variant, Omicron, while tentatively considered to cause milder illness, has pushed infection levels to record highs in recent days in the United States, UK, France and other European countries, forcing governments to reimpose restrictions.
The number of new daily COVID cases worldwide crossed one million for the first time, according to an AFP tally, with more than 7.3 million in the last seven days. And South African virologist Wolfgang Preiser, who first discovered the Omicron variant, has warned of its highly-contagious nature in an interview with Deutsch Welle, saying, “With this variant, it will be next to impossible to escape infection.”
How will NYE celebrations look like?
In France, nightclubs have been closed until well into January.
In Spain, public festivities have been cancelled except in Madrid, where a stripped-down gathering is scheduled with the crowd limited to 7,000 people compared to 18,000 in 2019.
On Thursday, Britain’s National Health Service announced that it would start opening temporary field hospitals to contain a possible overspill of inpatients in England, where the government stopped short of mandating curbs on New Year festivities.
Indonesia, which has reported more than 4.2 million confirmed cases, warned that foreign travellers may be deported from the resort island of Bali if they are caught violating COVID health rules during New Year. Bali has barred carnivals, fireworks and gatherings of more than 50 people over the Christmas and New Year period.
Mexico City has also cancelled its massive New Year’s Eve celebrations as a preventative measure after a rise in COVID cases.
Omicron has already started to overwhelm some hospitals in the United States, the hardest-hit country, where the seven-day average of new cases has hit 265,427, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.
In China, residents in the city of Xi’an, where 13 million people are under lockdown, said they were struggling to find enough food, despite Beijing insisting that there were adequate supplies. State TV showed footage of workers in hazmat suits sorting eggs, meat and vegetables, before delivering food to residents door-to-door.