Fearing the omicron variant, holiday revelers are slowing down the celebrations


LONDON (AP) – Christmas revelers across Europe are keeping a low profile, and U.S. officials are stepping up calls for unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated against the new omicron variant, which threatens to wipe out a second season of vacation that many hoped would bail out the pandemic-battered industries.

Scotland and Wales on Friday pledged millions of pounds for businesses hit in Britain’s latest wave of infections, a move that put pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to he does the same in England. Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak spoke to representatives of companies who have asked for more support, denouncing a “stealth lockdown” in which government officials recommend people reduce socialization as much as possible without formally enforcing the rules strict closures.

In the United States, President Joe Biden’s administration has resisted tightening restrictions, but also sketched dire scenarios for the unvaccinated in a plea for hesitant Americans to get vaccinated.

“For the unvaccinated, you envision a winter of serious illness and death, for yourselves, your families and the hospitals that you could soon overwhelm,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff said on Friday. Zients.

Several European countries are watching the spread of omicron with suspicion. Denmark on Friday decided to close theaters, concert halls, amusement parks and museums in response to a rapid increase in cases of the virus. In Spain, friends and classmates canceled the traditional end-of-year dinners.

Concerns over omicron were particularly palpable in Britain, which has reported a record number of infections three days in a row this week, the last Friday with more than 93,000 registered cases.

Businesses ranging from vacation providers to pubs and theaters are reporting a wave of cancellations as customers decide to skip the revelry for now rather than risk getting infected and missing family celebrations later. Experts say omicron appears to be more contagious, but not much else is known – and the uncertainty itself is enough for many to change their plans.

Even British Christmas pantos – beloved and boisterous holiday shows – are under threat. The Belgrade Theater in Coventry, western England, had to repay 180,000 pounds ($ 240,000) in ticket sales after customers decided not to attend the shows. He was also forced to cancel 12 performances of “Beauty and the Beast” because half of the cast tested positive.

“There has been a real gash in trust,” executive director Joanna Reid told the BBC.

Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday that financial support for businesses must come from the central government because it has the borrowing power to finance the scale of the aid needed.

“Business is already bleeding, every 24 hours counts,” Sturgeon said at a briefing in Scotland’s capital Edinburgh. “There’s no time to lose.”

The already besieged travel and tourism industry is particularly badly hit.

Eurostar, which operates trains across the Channel, sold tickets to France on Friday before new rules restricting travel to and from Britain came into effect. Long queues meandered around the parking lot for the Eurotunnel, which runs through the tunnel that drivers use to cross the water.

But for much of the travel industry, the story was one of unrealized travel. Ryanair originally planned to carry around 11 million passengers in December, but that number has fallen to 10 million, chief executive Michael O’Leary told The Guardian. Europe’s largest airline will also cut around 10% of its capacity in January.

Amanda Wheelock, 29, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, canceled a trip to France with her partner as cases increased there. While the push isn’t necessarily due to omicron, uncertainty over the new variant and a new requirement that all U.S. travelers must test negative before returning to the U.S. has raised concerns that the trip not be more stressful than fun. .

Instead, she travels to the Anchorage, Alaska area to see friends. She feared spending much of her trip trying to avoid getting infected – thus not taking full advantage of her presence in France.

“A vacation with a lot of stress is probably not a great vacation,” said Wheelock, originally from Arvada, Colo.

She is not alone. Advantage Travel Group, which represents around 350 travel agents in the UK, said its business fell 40% in mid-December compared to the previous month. These numbers, including flights, cruise bookings and package holidays, add to the current slump in the travel industry, which had already seen its activity drop by two-thirds since the start of the pandemic, a said CEO Julia Lo Bue-Said.

“Our members are dealing with clients who are really nervous about traveling now,” she said.

Many travel and hospitality professionals hoped they had left the worst behind, nearly two years after a pandemic devastated these industries. They saw this holiday season as a chance to reclaim some of what had been lost – until omicron throws a veil reminiscent of the early days of the crisis.

Richard Stevens estimates he lost 4,000 pounds ($ 5,300) in reservations at his rental ski chalet in the French Alps after the announcement of new, stricter travel rules for people coming from Britain.

He lost his first reservation when a guest called to say the restrictions would not allow anyone to come to France without a compelling reason, Stevens said. “And the compelling reason does not include going on vacation.”

Celebrity chef Michel Roux and other restaurateurs have invested heavily in redesigning their places to address safety concerns – and hoped to reap some of the benefits.

Returning to a state of enormous uncertainty for the second Christmas in a row is “like a kick in the stomach,” said Roux, who owns a destination restaurant in London.

Jorge Riera, who runs a traditional Spanish restaurant in central Madrid, said it doesn’t matter that the authorities didn’t impose specific restrictions and, at most, only issued recommendations.

“Most of our clients prioritize the well-being of loved ones over spending a fun evening with colleagues,” said Riera.

In the last week alone, cancellations have occurred for about half of the placeholder, sometimes on the same day of the event, the official said. He was expecting a call on Friday from a group of 45 who had booked a large space for a birthday party – but would only confirm the reservation at the very last minute.

“People are afraid of the virus again,” he said.

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Associated Press editors Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington, Mae Anderson in New York, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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