The World Today for December 25, 2020
Listen to Today's Edition
NEED TO KNOW
The Virus That ‘Stole’ Christmas
In Germany, it’s allowed to celebrate Christmas with four people outside of one’s household. In the Netherlands, that number is three. Under Belgium’s mind-numbingly complicated rules, it’s one – or two, if you live alone – or four if you stay outside. And in much of England, it’s zero.
In late November, Europeans looked at the US’ Thanksgiving surge in travel and family gatherings in shock, in horror and in disbelief, fearing post-holiday Covid-19 spikes, the Washington Post reported. Now they are facing their own as they try to balance public health considerations with the desire to give their citizens a little respite for the holidays after a particularly grim year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson exemplifies that dilemma: For a few days, at least, he thought England might be able to get away with allowing three families to celebrate Christmas together after months of separation. Health officials were not pleased, explained CNN.
Just a few days later, he changed course.
Alarmed by a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus, Johnson imposed a wholesale lockdown on London and most of England’s southeast, banning Christmas-season gatherings beyond individual households starting Dec. 20 and lasting at least 10 days.
“This year, Christmas will be different,” said Johnson. “Many of us are longing to spend time with family and friends, irrespective of our faith or background, and yet we cannot throw caution to the wind. The virus doesn’t know that it’s Christmas.”
Some European officials can’t bring themselves to stop celebrations completely and are relaxing restrictions to allow for the holidays. In Ireland, officials lifted a travel ban for the Christmas period but kept some shops and pubs shut. France, which imposed a hard lockdown in early November and whose president, Emmanuel Macron, tested positive for the virus earlier this month, loosened restrictions two weeks ago to allow shopping, travel and Yuletide celebrations. Even so, curfews are still in place – except on Christmas, the Local noted.
And Belgium, which has more coronavirus-related deaths per capita and a higher rate of infection than all but three other countries in the world, went into hard lockdown but lifted some restrictions to allow Christmas shopping, the Washington Post reported. Authorities are allowing social gatherings including Christmas celebrations but limited to four people. They must take place outdoors – with a caveat. “You are not allowed to go through an interior space first because then there is a risk that many people will be together in a small space,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told Het Laatste Nieuws.
And there is another catch: Only one guest who is chosen as a “close contact” is allowed inside the house to use the bathroom.
Still, Italy is more typical of European measures: Under a hard lockdown for most of the holidays, non-essential stores are shut and travel is restricted. Ditto for Poland which has placed a dusk-to-dawn curfew for New Year’s eve. In the Netherlands, non-essential businesses are closed for five weeks from mid-December after cases rose by more than 40 percent in a week, reported the Guardian. The Czech Republic has closed restaurants and hotels, limited gatherings to six people and imposed a nationwide curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. In Croatia, all non-essential travel is banned.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa, who imposed similar restrictions, was blunt, telling fellow Spaniards that this Christmas would simply not be normal: “It will be different, and with distance.”
Germany, touted as a success for keeping its death rates low in the spring, imposed a hard lockdown on Dec. 16 as the daily infection rate hit 30,000 – up from a high of 7,000 in March – because November’s ‘lockdown lite’ failed, officials admitted, as the Washington Times wrote. The country has shut down non-essential stores, restaurants and bars, hairdressers and schools – again – and imposed curfews. Officials also forced its famed Christmas markets to close and imposed a ban on singing in churches.
Meanwhile, fireworks are banned – there will be no rockets and sparklers for New Year’s Eve, an annual crazy free-for-all that turns the streets of Berlin into mini war-zones.
Close to tears in an address to parliament, Chancellor Angela Merkel pleaded with Germans to be more careful. “As hard as it is — and I know how much love has gone into setting up these mulled wine stands – this is not the same as agreeing only to do takeout,” she said. “I am really sorry, from the bottom of my heart … but the price of 590 deaths a day is not acceptable.”
In Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf, whose son and daughter-in-law tested positive last month, used an annual royal Christmas speech to highlight the growing impact of the virus in a rare intervention from a monarch whose duties are largely ceremonial, Reuters reported.
“I believe we have failed,” the king said about the country’s handling of the pandemic. Sweden, unlike other European countries, shunned lockdowns and masks and left schools, restaurants and businesses largely open. As a result, it has had a much higher per capita death rate than its Nordic neighbors, Denmark and Norway. Officials are now restricting social gatherings and considering other measures.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mikael Damberg said on Dec. 21 the country would shut its border with Denmark for one month because officials feared that harsh lockdown measures in Denmark would spur Danes to flock to Sweden to do their Christmas shopping, the BBC reported.
Out of desperation, some in Europe have suggested novel solutions to compensate for the lackluster holidays.
Andreas Westerfellhaus, Germany’s commissioner for nursing care, suggested that families should consider celebrating in “shifts” to avoid spreading the virus to the vulnerable. “Different households could celebrate together on different days,” he told German daily, Bild. Meanwhile, Frédérique Jacobs, head of the infectious-diseases department at the Erasme Hospital in Brussels, suggested that Christmas celebrations could be postponed to July or August. “To slow down the curve, we have to imagine different holidays,” Jacobs told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
Some, meanwhile, are taking the holiday restrictions in stride. Christmas is a time that is about more than parties or gifts or even gatherings, they say.
In Nuremberg, Benigna Munsi, 18, is serving her second year as the magical Germanic figure of the Christkind, who, in the local tradition, is a young woman with long blond curls, a towering crown and wing-like golden sleeves, as the New York Times detailed. She is the city’s holiday ambassador, a carrier of Christmas magic, of compassion and of gifts, and is the patron of its celebrated Christmas market, which was canceled this year.
“Don’t let things get you down and don’t give up,” Munsi said, describing how she despaired at forgoing visits to the sick at hospitals, the elderly at nursing homes, the homeless at shelters and the children at the Christmas market as the Christkind usually does. Instead, she appears online and takes phone calls twice a week from those who wish to speak to the Christkind.
“Even in a world weary of coronavirus and seemingly endless lockdowns,” she said, “we can always find something beautiful.”
WANT TO KNOW
Dear Readers, Happy Holidays!
News will return on Monday. Best wishes for the season!
Your DailyChatter team
The Science of Everywhere
Santa Claus, as usual, departed the North Pole to head around the world to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls – as he does every year.
Scientists still wonder, though: How does he do it?
The answer lies in quantum physics, the Irish Times reported.
Quantum physics, basically, explains everything we understand about the world such as how the sun shines or how metal looks and feels different from wood.
It also suggests that objects – Santa Claus in this case – can exist in many different places at the same time.
Known as superposition, researchers John Goold and Mark Mitchinson suggest that this is how Santa pulls off the trick of being present in multiple areas of the globe simultaneously.
Santa is exploiting, “what we know as ‘macroscopic quantum coherence,’ which is precisely the same resource used by cutting-edge quantum technologies to outperform technologies based on classical physics,” they explained.
Sadly, try as they might, researchers still don’t exactly understand how he does it while noting that superpositions are “very fragile” and can easily “collapse.”
They theorize that the legendary figure is equipped with some high-tech device to accomplish this Herculean feat and save Christmas.
“But – just in case – we advise children the world over to go to bed early on Christmas Eve and suggest they don’t try to catch a glimpse of him and risk collapsing his merry superposition,” said Mitchinson.
Meanwhile, children have been asking whether Covid-19 will stop Santa. No, not at all, says the US’ top official for infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. “I took a trip to the North Pole, I went there, and vaccinated Santa Clause myself,” he told some very worried children. “I measured his level of immunity. He’s good to go.”
And what about the travel restrictions due to the virus? No problem – many leaders around the world are giving Santa a pass.
In Maryland, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued Order NUMBER 20-12-17-03, “EXEMPTING SANTA CLAUS AND HIS AFFILIATED ELVES AND REINDEER FROM TRAVELER TESTING AND QUARANTINE REQUIREMENTS” because of Santa’s “innate immunity.”
“This Order only exempts the Real Santa. It does not apply to any of his representatives or contractors, including without limitation, Mall Santas…No law enforcement officer of the State or any political subdivision shall interfere with the performance by the Real Santa of his appointed rounds.”
COVID-19 Global Update
More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:
- US: 18,654,396 (+1.02%)
- India: 10,146,845 (+0.23%)
- Brazil: 7,423,945 (+0.79%)
- Russia: 2,934,695 (+0.00%)**
- France: 2,584,333 (+0.84%)
- UK: 2,195,144 (+1.82%)
- Turkey: 2,100,712 (+0.87%)
- Italy: 2,009,317 (+0.91%)
- Spain: 1,854,951 (+0.69%)
- Germany: 1,630,596 (+1.65%)
*Numbers change over 24 hours
**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country