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Thousands of Flights Canceled Globally as Omicron Mars Christmas Weekend 


Passengers line up at John F. Kennedy International Airport after airlines announced numerous flights were canceled during the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Christmas Eve in New York, Dec. 24, 2021.

Commercial airlines around the world canceled more than 4,300 flights over the Christmas weekend, as COVID-19 infections driven by the omicron variant created greater uncertainty for holiday travelers.

Airline carriers globally scrapped at least 2,366 flights on Friday, which fell on Christmas Eve and is typically a heavy day for air travel, according to a running tally on the flight-tracking website FlightAware.com. Nearly 9,000 more flights were delayed.

The website showed that 1,616 Christmas Day flights were called off worldwide, along with 365 more that had been scheduled for Sunday.

In that same three-day period last year, more than 191,000 commercial flights were flown, according to FlightAware.com.

Commercial air traffic within the United States and into or out of the country accounted for more than a quarter of the canceled flights over the weekend, FlightAware data showed.

United, Delta

Among the first U.S. carriers to report a wave of holiday weekend cancellations were United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which scrubbed nearly 280 flights combined on Friday, citing personnel shortages because of COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19 infections have surged in the United States in recent days because of the omicron variant, which was first detected in November and now accounts for nearly three-quarters of new U.S. cases and as many as 90% in some areas, such as the Eastern Seaboard.

The average number of new U.S. coronavirus cases has risen 45% to 179,000 per day over the past week, according to a Reuters tally.

New York and at least 10 other states set new one-day case records on Thursday or Friday.

In Britain, many industries and transport networks were struggling with staff shortages as sick workers self-isolated, while hospitals have warned of the risk of an impact on patient safety.

Shoppers in the crowd wear face masks against the ongoing pandemic on Oxford Street in London, Dec. 24, 2021.
Shoppers in the crowd wear face masks against the ongoing pandemic on Oxford Street in London, Dec. 24, 2021.

One in 20 Londoners had COVID-19 last week, a figure that could rise to one in 10 by early next week, according to data released Thursday by the Office for National Statistics.

Government data showed a record tally of 122,186 new infections nationwide on Friday, marking a third day in which the number of new known cases has surpassed 100,000.

While recent research suggests omicron produces milder illness, and a lower rate of hospitalizations, than previous variants of the coronavirus, health officials have maintained a cautious note about the outlook.

"There is a glimmer of Christmas hope … but it definitely isn't yet at the point where we could downgrade that serious threat," Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, told the BBC.

Record in France

France set another COVID-19 infection record on Friday, with its daily tally exceeding 94,000 while hospitalizations from the virus reached a seven-month high, prompting the government to convene a special meeting for Monday that could trigger new public health restrictions.

Despite the uncertainties and grim news around the world, millions of Americans carried on with travel plans through a second pandemic-clouded holiday season.

Moses Jimenez, an accountant from Long Beach, Mississippi, flew to New York with his wife and three children, even though the latest torrent of coronavirus cases dashed their hopes of catching a Broadway performance of Hamilton or visit some museums.

Hamilton was one of a dozen productions to cancel shows this week as cast and crew members tested positive for COVID-19. Museums were scratched from the family's itinerary because many now require proof of vaccination and the two younger children are ineligible for the shot.

Instead, Jimenez, 33, said his brood would make the best of roaming the city's streets and parks, while also seeing relatives and friends.

"We just wanted to get out of the house, really, get the kids out to the city for Christmas," Jimenez told Reuters on Thursday at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

New York planned to sharply limit the number of people it allows in Times Square for its annual outdoor New Year's Eve celebration, in response to the surge of new coronavirus cases, capping the number of attendees 15,000.

The Biden administration will next week lift travel restrictions on eight southern African countries imposed last month over concerns about the omicron variant, the White House said.

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