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World Readies For Lockdown Christmas

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Coronavirus misery hung over Christmas preparations worldwide on Thursday, with countless millions forced to cancel plans or limit festivities under fresh virus lockdowns.

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After a grinding pandemic year that has seen more than 1.7 million people die from Covid-19, a slew of new outbreaks are a stark reminder that despite emergency vaccine roll-outs, life is unlikely to return to normal quickly.



Donald Trump and his wife Melania left Washington to spend Christmas in Florida, after his shock rejection of a massive coronavirus relief package passed by Congress


Donald Trump and his wife Melania left Washington to spend Christmas in Florida, after his shock rejection of a massive coronavirus relief package passed by Congress
 AFP / SAUL LOEB

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Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born, was preparing for a Christmas unlike any in its recent history.

The Christmas Eve mass at the Church of the Nativity is traditionally the highlight of a holiday season that sees hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank.

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Thousands of hauliers are stuck in the UK, cut off by travel restrictions brought in because of a new coronavirus variant discovered there


Thousands of hauliers are stuck in the UK, cut off by travel restrictions brought in because of a new coronavirus variant discovered there
 AFP / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER

The mass will be closed to the public this year and broadcast online, with only clergy and select individuals allowed inside the basilica, which was sterilised earlier Thursday ahead of the service.

Some festivities went ahead, including a procession of bagpipers towards Manger Square, who were watched by a mostly-masked Palestinian crowd that lined the streets under grey skies and a smattering of rain.



This year mass in Bethlehem, which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, will be held online with no participants


This year mass in Bethlehem, which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, will be held online with no participants
 AFP / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH

“It is different this year, because we can’t pray at the Nativity Church,” said Jania Shaheen, who was with her two small children and husband in the square.

“We can’t gather as a family, everybody is afraid… It is good to see some people here today but there is a no one compared to last year. It is only for people of Bethlehem,” she told AFP.



Germany has been forced to cancel its famous Christmas markets, as countries around the world grapple with coronavirus restrictions during the festive period


Germany has been forced to cancel its famous Christmas markets, as countries around the world grapple with coronavirus restrictions during the festive period
 AFP / STEFANIE LOOS



A recent outbreak in Sydney, Australia, means residents are limited to all but the smallest of Christmas gatherings


A recent outbreak in Sydney, Australia, means residents are limited to all but the smallest of Christmas gatherings
 AFP / Steven Saphore

In Australia — often a rare bright spot in keeping the virus in check — a growing cluster of cases in northern Sydney has confined residents to seaside suburbs and prompted a ban on all but the smallest Christmas family gatherings.

Jimmy Arslan, who owns two cafes at the epicentre of the city’s outbreak, said trade was down 75 percent and his Canberra-based family had been forced to cancel their Christmas visit.



Santa Claus begins his journey from Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland to deliver presents to all the children of the world. He also reminds everyone to follow the rules in force to fight against Covid-19.


Santa Claus begins his journey from Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland to deliver presents to all the children of the world. He also reminds everyone to follow the rules in force to fight against Covid-19.
 Visit Rovaniemi

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s a very, very sour ending for a sour year,” the 46-year-old told AFP.

“Let’s just say we all should welcome 2021 and kick 2020 in its arse.”



A black jaguar receives food wrapped as a Christmas gift at Cali Zoo in Colombia


A black jaguar receives food wrapped as a Christmas gift at Cali Zoo in Colombia
 AFP / Paola MAFLA

In Europe, much of the continent is enduring a dark winter of resurgent outbreaks.

Germany has been forced to cancel its famous Christmas markets and Pope Francis plans to bring the Vatican’s Christmas midnight mass forward by two hours to meet Italy’s curfew rules.

In Christmas Eve messages, the Pope expressed his desire to visit crisis-hit Lebanon and urged political leaders in South Sudan to continue working for peace.

For many, the isolation that has defined the past year will continue into Christmas Day and beyond — such as in Belgium, where residents are largely limited to welcoming a single visitor.

In the Catholic-majority Philippines some are choosing to spend the holidays alone because of the risk of catching the virus on public transport, as well as quarantine rules making travelling time-consuming and expensive.

“I am ordering food in, re-watching old movies, and catching up with my family by video,” said Kim Patria, 31, who lives alone in Manila.

Britons, meanwhile, were cut off from swathes of the world, due to the emergence of a new Covid-19 strain.

Some UK border restrictions have been temporarily relaxed for the holidays, but thousands from other European countries are still stranded in England.

“Home for Christmas? Forget it,” said Laurent Beghin, a French truck driver who delivered his cargo but was still stuck days later.

In the United States, more than one million people have now been vaccinated, but the country’s coronavirus response remained chaotic as Donald Trump helicoptered off the White House lawn for one of the last times in his presidency.

The Republican and his wife Melania were bound for a vacation at his glitzy Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, after his shock rejection of a massive coronavirus relief package passed by Congress.

New Year’s celebrations are looking downbeat globally, with lockdowns looming for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Austria through the post-Christmas period, while Portugal has imposed a New Year’s Eve curfew.

For now, Sydney still plans to ring in 2021 with its famous Harbour Bridge fireworks display, with New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian pledging the seven-minute spectacle will go ahead “no matter what”.

Disclaimer: This post has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor

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