Americans are again facing a stay-at-home New Year’s Eve as US political leaders and senior health advisers have urged people to scrap party plans and avoid larger public events as daily cases of Covid-19 break all previous records.
In New York, attendance at the Times Square celebration known as the Ball Drop – in essence, tens of thousands of people watching a 12-foot geodesic sphere inlaid with Waterford crystals descend a long pole – has been capped at 15,000, down from pre-pandemic 60,000, with organizers encouraging revelers to watch it on TV or online.
Attendees must be fully vaccinated and wear masks. The changes are meant to “keep the fully vaccinated crowd safe and healthy as we ring in the New Year”, outgoing mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
In Chicago, the Illinois governor, Jay Pritzker, has not yet imposed restrictions or shut down the city’s traditional fireworks show. But he warned Chicagoan this week that “Omicron and Delta are coming to your party”.
“You need to think twice about how many people will be gathered together, keeping social distancing if you’re at a party. And if you can’t, leave,” he added.
San Francisco has canceled its fireworks show over the Bay for the second year in a row. Mayor London Breed told residents that “we must remain vigilant in doing all we can to stop the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant”.
Read more of Edward Helmore’s report here: US cities scale back New Year’s Eve events and urge people to scrap parties
India has concerns over sharp case rises in New Delhi and Mumbai
India is on the threshold of a potential new wave of coronavirus – probably fuelled by the Omicron variant. Cases have surged by 86% in the Indian capital New Delhi in 24 hours, and doubled in Mumbai in the same period.
Although the absolute numbers remain low in both cities, the sharp rise is striking and is alarming officials. By late November, India’s capital was recording about 40 fresh infections a day. On Wednesday, it recorded 923. The last time it had recorded such a figure was in May.
The surge has prompted fresh restrictions in all public places yet huge rallies for elections in February continue to be held by all parties. The rise has injected more urgency into the efforts to vaccinate the 108 million adult Indians who have yet to receive even one jab.
So far, though, doctors have seen very few serious cases. The vast majority are asymptomatic or with very mild symptoms from which they are recovering fast. Nor is there any pressure yet on hospitals. Around 97 per cent of the 21,518 beds in Delhi earmarked for covid patients remain vacant, anecdotally suggesting the variant is more transmissible but less virulent.
Doctors say that protection through natural infection during India’s second wave, when the Delta variant raged across the country, is probably another reason for the low impact.