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For the second year in a straight, the Covid-19 epidemic has derailled plans and upended Christmas customs throughout Europe, from Spanish vacations to Greek festivities to German circus performances.
Authorities on the continent have tightened limits to prevent overcrowding hospitals after a rise in cases last autumn crushed expectations of a typical holiday season this year. Fears are heightened by expectations that the highly transmissible Omicron variety would spread quickly.
Gatherings, festivals, and Christmas getaways are being cut down or canceled entirely for families and companies throughout the area. Europeans are queuing up for booster injections instead of purchasing Christmas gifts.
The number of Omicron cases is increasing every two days, according to the UK government, which has imposed a variety of Omicron-related restrictions. On Wednesday, the government recorded the greatest number of Covid-19 cases since the outbreak started. Denmark and Norway imposed additional restrictions on nightlife this week. France has shut down its nightclubs and announced that visitor arrivals from the United Kingdom would be restricted from Saturday. Politicians in Germany are discussing whether to make vaccines obligatory, following the lead of Austria, where jabs will be required starting in February.
“I can imagine how many of you, like me, are grieved to learn that the epidemic has once again cast a pall over this Christmas,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen remarked on Thursday.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Omicron has been found in more than 30 states in the United States, ranging from Hawaii to New York. Authorities in California reintroduced an indoor mask requirement last week.
Tightening restrictions and new uncertainties are wreaking havoc on an already virus-weary population throughout Europe. Traditional Christmas markets have been shuttered in several German districts, while firecrackers and large New Year’s Eve celebrations have been outlawed throughout the nation. The Élysée Palace in Paris has postponed its holiday party, while municipalities around France have canceled their Christmas performances.
At a clinic at Chester Cathedral in Britain on Thursday, a soldier delivers a dosage of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/paul ellis
Cath Colbridge, 50, a primary school teacher in Cefn Cribwr, South Wales, said she and her husband had to postpone their Christmas vacation to Spain when the hotel closed. It was her sixth vacation canceled due to the epidemic, including three trips to New York postponed due to new laws.
Ms. Colbridge remarked, “I’m so angry that they keep altering the travel regulations.” “It’s gotten to the point where we’ve stopped planning vacations overseas and instead acquired a camper van so we can go away for a few days.”
Rick Gilby, chairman of the local soccer team’s fan group, was preparing a Christmas celebration where local youngsters would meet the players in Fleetwood, northern England. Mr. Gilby, 50, had already purchased candy boxes for the kids, and Captain Cod, the club’s mascot, was scheduled to come.
“Christmas is canceled,” Mr. Gilby said on the fan club’s Facebook page on Monday.
He subsequently said, “We were feeling like we were going back to normal, we were doing all we could, and then you keep getting these knock backs.” “And it seems like we always have these additional precautions around the holidays.” It’s making me feel deflated.”
Another set of soccer enthusiasts was frustrated by the virus 1,000 miles east in Berlin. Fans of 1. FC Union Berlin had congregated at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei, or the stadium at the old forester’s home, for years to light candles and sing Christmas carols.
Lockdowns, vaccination requirements, and travel restrictions have swept Europe in the wake of increased Covid infections and fears about a strain found in South Africa, underlining fresh obstacles for the United States as authorities try to avert future shutdowns.
The stadium will “stay quiet and dark on December 23rd,” as it did last year, according to the club’s website.
The Rosa Luxemburg high school in Berlin’s Pankow area has requested pupils to return the hot plates and waffle makers they had brought to the school ahead of its annual Christmas market, which was canceled. The annual performance of the school orchestra, which would ordinarily be held in a church, will be webcast on Zoom without an audience.
Other Christmas customs are being jeopardized.
The Christmas circus in Offenburg, Germany, postponed its shows for the second year in a row after delaying its 25th anniversary last year. Due to the high number of illnesses, municipal authorities on the Greek peninsula of Halkidiki canceled public festivities. According to a statement, officials aim to decorate the neighborhoods in acknowledgment of the “psychological need of young and old to enjoy the spirit of Christmas.”
Local authorities in Les Pieux, northern France, have mandated that Christmas markets be surrounded by a perimeter fence and that guards be stationed at access points to verify people’s vaccination certificates.
New limits to curb the spread of the Omicron type of coronavirus have gone into effect in a restaurant in central London.
Yui Mok/Zuma Press photo
“There were a lot of restrictions that small association like ours couldn’t meet,” said Valentin Bourdet, the chairman of Les Pieux’s local business organization, which canceled the local market. “It’s aggravating.”
Daily cases in France reached an all-time high earlier this month, and officials say it’s probable that they’ll stay near-record levels in the coming weeks.
In addition, the virus has returned to nursing homes. Hundreds of institutions around France have been re-locked, according to Sabrina Deliry, who represents a group of relatives of nursing home patients. As a result, it’s possible that some people may be separated from their family for the second Christmas in a row.
“Like the previous wave, these institutions have been fully shut down, visits have been halted, and people have been confined to their rooms,” Ms. Deliry said.
At the start of December, a closed Christmas market in Schwerin, Germany.
Bernd WaStneck/Zuma Press photo
Certain cancellations extend beyond the holidays in some regions. The lavish Vienna Opera Ball in February, which takes place in the Neo-Renaissance structure of the Vienna State Opera house and is one of the highlights of the Austrian social season, was canceled due to mounting guest concern over the Omicron variation, according to the opera.
The hotel business has been hit by a wave of cancellations throughout Europe in the run-up to the holidays.
According to UKHospitality, which represents the hospitality industry in the United Kingdom, takings at hospitality venues will be down by roughly 40% this month compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to industry group Dehoga, nine out of ten restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality firms in Germany have recorded Christmas party cancellations.
“The situation in the hotel business is deteriorating day by day,” said Guido Zöllick, president of the group. “The businesses have been hit by a massive surge of cancellations. Many people were unable to work due to financial constraints.”
Ms. Colbridge, back in the Welsh countryside, finds a silver lining: now that their trip to Spain has been postponed, her husband can dress up as Santa and see the village’s youngsters. She is now aiming to arrive in New York in February.
This month, a few tourists strolled through the Christmas Market on Karlsplatz Square in front of St Charles Church in Vienna.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/georg Hochmuth
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