Christmas arrived around the world on Saturday amid an outbreak of COVID-19 infections that separated many families, overwhelmed hospitals and curbed religious observances as the pandemic was set to spread into a third year.

Yet there have been homilies of hope, as vaccines and other treatments become more available.

Pope Francis used his Christmas address to pray that some of these vaccines reach poorer countries. While rich countries have vaccinated up to 90% of their adult population, 8.9% of Africans are fully vaccinated, making it the least vaccinated continent in the world.

Only a few thousand supporters showed up for his midday speech and blessing, but even that was better than last year, when the Christmas lockdown in Italy forced Francis inside for the annual ‘Urbi et Orbi “(” To the city and to the world “) word.

“Grant health to the infirm and inspire all men and women of good will to seek the best possible means to overcome the current health crisis and its effects,” Francis said from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Open hearted to ensure that necessary medical care – and vaccines in particular – are provided to those who need it most. “

In the United States, many churches have canceled in-person services, but for those that had in-person worship, clerics reported lower but significant attendance.

“Our hopes for a normal Christmas have been tempered by Omicron this year… still filled with uncertainties and threats that overshadow us,” Reverend Ken Boller told his parishioners at midnight mass at St. François-Xavier in New York. “Breakthrough was a happy word for us, until it was associated with COVID. And in the midst of it all, we celebrate Christmas.

In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II noted another year of pain – especially personal after losing her husband, Prince Philip, in April – and urged people around the world to celebrate with friends and family, despite the grief caused by the pandemic.

“Although it is a time of great happiness and good humor for many, Christmas can be difficult for those who have lost loved ones,” the Queen said in the pre-recorded message released when many British families were enjoying their traditional dinner of Christmas. “This year, above all, I understand why.

Thousands of people across Britain received a Christmas vaccine booster as new cases there hit a new daily high of 122,186. The Good Health Pharmacy in North London was one of dozens of sites. immunizations who kept their doors open on Saturday to administer “jingle jabs” amid government pressure to offer boosters to all adults by the end of the year.

The head of intensive care at a hospital in Marseille, France, said most COVID-19 patients there over Christmas were not vaccinated, while his staff are exhausted or unable to work because they are infected.

“We are fed up with this,” said Dr Julien Carvelli, head of intensive care at La Timone hospital in Marseille, as his team spent another Christmas Eve treating COVID-19 patients on breathing apparatus . “We are afraid of not having enough space.”

Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, spent Christmas without a home, electricity, adequate food or water after a powerful typhoon struck minus 375 died last week and devastated most of the time. central island provinces.

Governor Arthur Yap of the hard-hit Bohol province, where more than 100 people died in the typhoon and around 150,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, called on foreign aid agencies to help provide temporary shelter and water filtration systems to supplement Philippine government assistance.

“There is an overwhelming fear. There are no gifts, there have been no Christmas Eve dinners. There is none of that today, ”Yap said.

Yap said he was happy that many Filipinos could celebrate Christmas in a safer way after COVID-19 cases fell, but he begged, “Please don’t forget us.”

While some countries in Asia have imposed restrictions in an attempt to contain the highly contagious variant of omicron, governments in Europe, the United States and elsewhere have preached common sense despite reporting record daily cases. this week, advising their citizens to use masks and voluntarily limit the size of holiday gatherings. .

Some families expected empty chairs at dinner tables on this holiday, after airlines around the world canceled hundreds of flights as the omicron variant scrambled schedules and downsized.

According to FlightAware, more than 3,900 flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday were canceled, nearly half of which involved Chinese airlines. About 30% of the affected flights – over 1,100 – were to, from or within the United States.

At a reception center for asylum seekers on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Patricia Etoh, a Cameroonian Catholic, said she had no special plans because it just didn’t look like Christmas without her child 6-year-old, who she had to leave behind.

But she added: “We are thankful, we are alive, and when we are alive, there is hope.”

In Fiji, many members of the deeply religious nation will celebrate Christmas at traditional church services and family reunions. The Pacific Island is experiencing an ongoing epidemic and a pandemic death toll of nearly 700, but 92% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

Health Secretary James Fong in a Christmas message urged Fijians to “please celebrate wisely”.

In remote Macuata province, residents of four villages received a special Christmas present when electricity was connected to their villages for the first time.

Christmas offered no freebies to New York City residents looking for a coronavirus test, as most of the city’s 120 test sites have been closed.

Appetite for testing was shown in Brooklyn on Friday when police were summoned to a neighborhood to appease a crowd of angry people who expected to receive free home test kits, only to be disappointed when the supply got exhausted.

The scene unfolded just a day after the state recorded nearly 40,000 new infections from the coronavirus, a jump of around 10,000 from the record set by New York State a day earlier.

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Winfield reported from Rome and Smith from Pittsburgh. Associated Press editors Bobby Caina Calvan and Larry Neumeister in New York, Danica Kirka in London, and other AP editors around the world contributed to this report.

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