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Winds of panic in the UK before the holidays

Winds of panic in the UK before the holidays

‘It’s a panic again’: Between last-minute cancellations and long queues in front of vaccination centres, Britons have messed up their plans in hopes of spending Christmas without Omicron.

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Last year, Christmas festivities were reduced to an absolute minimum following the advent of the alpha variant. The British had hoped to make up for that this year, but the astonishing resurgence of COVID-19 cases, due to the Omicron variant, is turning everything upside down.

While the government has imposed only limited measures (remote work, indoor masks, health permits for gatherings), some are playing it safe and limiting their outings to avoid contamination until Christmas week.

Even if they are not strictly banned, many ‘Christmas parties’ for businesses and institutions in the UK have been called off, much to the chagrin of pubs.

“This week is supposed to be the busiest week of the year, but it’s not at all,” Jesse Sandy, 28, a waitress at London Tavern Hospital, told AFP. “We had a lot of cancellations. (…) We had one or two parties on the weekend in addition to the Christmas parties, but they were all canceled obviously due to the Omicron variant.”

If Prime Minister Boris Johnson has advised people to “think carefully before going” to a restaurant or pub, Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has gone further. He called on the British to limit their interactions to reduce the chances of contracting or transmitting the virus.

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Even Queen Elizabeth II, 95, as a precaution, abandoned her traditional family reunion that was due to gather around 50 people on Tuesday at Windsor Castle, for the first time since her husband Philip died in April.

In the theaters of the West End, an area of ​​London famous for its musicals, several shows have had to cancel certain dates because members of their bands have tested positive for the virus. A big hit in this usually auspicious period.

As for work programmes, nearly a quarter of the reserved seats are still empty, according to specialists.

Holiday plans are also crumbling: Britons will be barred from entering France from Saturday. The French will have to test negative in less than 24 hours and self-isolate upon arrival while waiting for the second negative test.

France justified this decision by the “tidal wave” of cases linked to the Omicron variant in the UK, which on Thursday reported an additional 88,376 positive cases, unheard of since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“The panic has returned,” Elena Orsini, 47, from Italy, told AFP. To escape the new restrictions, she applied for her departure on Friday, via Eurotunnel.

A last minute change incurred an extra cost, but after their holiday in France was canceled last Christmas due to restrictions, “we didn’t want to miss it again.”

In the UK – one of the countries in Europe hardest hit by COVID-19 with 146,937 deaths (+146 in 24 hours) – Omicron-related pollution is now doubling in less than two days in some areas. Hospitals are starting to rise again, especially in London.

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Charlie Hinton, a 23-year-old bartender, explains, “I’m especially careful this year because I caught Covid at exactly this time last year, so I couldn’t do anything for my birthday,” which falls in December, “nor on Christmas.” “.

This year, he’s planning to celebrate his birthday, but he’s going to ask his friends for an antigen test before the party and plans to see them outside to reduce the risk.

To protect Omicron, the government is counting on the booster vaccine campaign, hoping to deliver a third dose to all adults by the end of December. The government said Thursday that this campaign has been greatly accelerated by injecting more than 745,000 booster doses in a single day, a record high.