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Omicron’s New Year’s cocktail: Sorrow, fear, hope for 2022

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apnews— Sorrow for the dead and dying, fear of more infections to come and hopes for an end to the coronavirus pandemic were — again — the bittersweet cocktail with which the world said good riddance to 2021 and ushered in 2022.

New Year’s Eve, which used to be celebrated globally with a free-spirited wildness, felt instead like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant again filling hospitals.

“We just need enjoyment,” said Karen Page, 53, who was among the fed-up revelers venturing out in London. “We have just been in so long.”

The mostly muted New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world ushered in the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic. More than 285 million people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide since late 2019 and more than 5 million have died.

In Paris, officials canceled the fireworks amid surging infections and reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing outdoors, an obligation followed by the majority of people who milled about on the Champs-Elysées as the final hours of 2021 ticked away.

In Berlin, police urged people not to gather near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was staged without a live audience. In Madrid, authorities allowed only 7,000 people into the city’s Puerta del Sol downtown square, a venue traditionally hosting some 20,000 revelers.

In the United States, officials took a mixed approach to the year-end revelry: nixing the audience at a countdown concert in Los Angeles, scaling it back in New York yet going full speed ahead in Las Vegas, where thousands turned up for a fireworks show on the Strip that was threatened by gusty winds but went off as scheduled.

President Joe Biden noted the losses and uncertainty caused by the pandemic but said: “We’re persevering. We’re recovering.”

“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “That’s how we made it through this year. And how we’ll embrace the next. Together.”

In New York, officials allowed just 15,000 people — vaccinated and masked — inside the perimeter around Times Square, a sliver of the 1 million that typically squeeze in to watch the famed ball drop. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, defending the event, said people need to see that New York is open for business.

Yet by Thursday, rapper LL Cool J had dropped out of the New York telecast after a positive COVID-19 test and restaurant owners battered by staffing shortages and omicron cancelations throughout the holiday season struggled to stay open.

“I’m really scared for our industry,” said New York restaurateur David Rabin, who watched reservations and party bookings disappear this month. “No one made any money in December. The fact they may have a good night tonight, it has no impact.”

Airlines also struggled as the year came to a close, canceling thousands of flights after the virus struck flight crews and other personnel and amid bad weather.

The pandemic game-changer of 2021 — vaccinations — continued apace. Pakistan said it had fully vaccinated 70 million of its 220 million people this year and Britain said it met its goal of offering a vaccine booster shot to all adults by Friday.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin mourned the dead, praised Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “isn’t retreating yet.” Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 COVID-19 deaths but its state statistics agency says the death toll has been more than double that.

“I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who lost their dear ones,” Putin said in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.

Elsewhere, the venue that many chose for New Year’s celebrations was the same place they became overly familiarly with during lockdowns: their homes.

Pope Francis also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-sized manger set up in St. Peter’s Square, again to avoid a crowd. In an unusual move for Francis, the 85-year-old pontiff donned a surgical mask for a Vespers service of prayer and hymns Friday evening as he sat in an armchair. But he also delivered a homily standing and unmasked.

“A sense of being lost has grown in the world during the pandemic,” Francis told the faithful in St. Peter’s Basilica.

France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.

In London, the normal fireworks display, which would have attracted tens of thousands of people to the city center and the banks of the Thames, was replaced by a light and drones show broadcast on television. Location details about the spectacle were kept secret in advance to avoid crowds gathering.

“The last two years have been so difficult for so many people, so many have suffered and there is a point when we need to start coming together finally,” said Mira Lluk, 22, a special needs teacher.

France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases Friday marked its third day running above the 200,000 mark. The U.K. was close behind, with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said as many as 1 in 15 people were infected with the virus in the week before Christmas. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the U.K. rose 68% in the last week, to the highest levels since February.

In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach welcomed a small crowd of a few thousand for 16 minutes of fireworks. Rio’s New Year’s bash usually brings more than 2 million people to Copacabana beach. In 2020 there was no celebration due to the pandemic. This year there was music on loudspeakers, but no live concerts like in previous editions.

Yet boisterous New Year’s Eve celebrations kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. One medical expert predicted that Serbia will see thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.

At Expo 2020, the sprawling world’s fair outside Dubai, 26-year-old tourist Lujain Orfi prepared to throw caution to the wind on New Year’s Eve — her first time ever outside Saudi Arabia, where she lives in the holy city of Medina.

“If you don’t celebrate, life will pass you by,” she said. “I’m healthy and took two (vaccine) doses. We just have to enjoy.”

Australia went ahead with its celebrations despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky over Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House at midnight. Yet the crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years.

In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly because some stores would be closed. He said vaccinations had made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new variant.

“A numbness has set in, and we are no longer overly afraid,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take for granted that it won’t happen to me.”

South Korean authorities closed many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which usually swarm with people hoping to catch the year’s first sunrise.

In India, millions of people rang in the new year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions taking the fizz out of celebrations in New Delhi, Mumbai and other large cities.

In mainland China, the Shanghai government canceled an annual light show along the Huangpu River that usually draws hundreds of thousands of spectators. There were no plans for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or had limited access since mid-December.

In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out basic necessities for tens of thousands of people ahead of New Year’s Eve. More than 400 were killed by Typhoon Rai and at least 82 remain missing.

Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home to a fire last month, and then the typhoon blew away her temporary wooden shack in Cebu city. She will welcome the new year with her husband, who works in a glass and aluminum factory, and her 1-year-old baby in a ramshackle tent in a clearing where hundreds of other families erected small tents from debris, rice sacks and tarpaulins.

Asked what she wants for the new year, Singson had a simple wish: “I hope we won’t get sick.”

This story has been corrected to show that the fireworks display in Las Vegas went off on time despite the threat of winds.

Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press reporters Daniel Cole in Marseille; Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow; Frances D’Emilio in Rome; Sylvia Hui in London; Darko Vojinovic in Belgrade, Serbia; Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia; Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam; Zen Soo in Hong Kong; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia; and AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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Covid: Ecuador makes vaccination mandatory for most citizens

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bbc– Ecuador has announced that the Covid-19 vaccine will be mandatory for most citizens, saying the measure is needed because of a rise in infections and the spread of variants such as Omicron.

The health ministry said there were enough doses to “immunise the entire population”. Those with a medical justification will be exempt.

All others aged five or over must be vaccinated.

To date, 77.2% of the eligible population has been given two doses.

And more than 900,000 people have received a booster shot.

The ministry said vaccines were a “shield of protection” against the virus, helping to prevent serious illness, hospitalisations and deaths.

The decision, it added, was based in the country’s constitution, in which the right to health must be guaranteed by the state.

Austria and Germany are among other countries planning a similar move.

Ecuador has already adopted vaccination certificates, which are required in public places such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres and shopping centres.

It has also imposed measures on travellers to try to curb the spread of Omicron, which appears to be more contagious but milder than other variants of the virus.

Since the start of the pandemic, the country has confirmed 33,600 Covid-related deaths.

 

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Leftist Gabriel Boric wins Chile presidential election

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bbc– Leftist candidate Gabriel Boric has won Chile’s presidential election after an early concession from his far-right rival, José Antonio Kast.

Mr Kast conceded defeat barely an hour and a half after polls closed, and with around half of ballots counted.

With most of the votes counted, Mr Boric won with 56% and Mr Kast trailed with 44% of the votes.

The election has been one of the most polarised in recent decades and comes after mass anti-government protests.

Both candidates offered starkly different visions for the country, and both are outsiders representing political parties that have never been in government.

At 35-years-old, Mr Boric will become one of the world’s youngest political leaders, and the youngest president in Chile’s history.

  • Chile’s dark past hangs over presidential run-off
  • The deep divisions ahead of polling day

In a phone call with outgoing President Sebastián Piñera, which was publicly broadcasted, Mr Boric said he would do his “best to rise to this tremendous challenge”.

A former student protest leader, he backed the mass demonstrations against inequality and alleged corruption that rocked Chile in 2019 and 2020.

Once the most stable economy in Latin America, Chile has one of the world’s largest income gaps, with one percent of the population owning 25% of the country’s wealth, according to the United Nations.

Mr Boric has promised to address this inequality by reforming Chile’s pension and healthcare systems, reducing the work week from 45 to 40 hours, and boosting green investment

His rival, meanwhile, stood on a platform of law and order, pledging cuts to tax and social spending.

Mr Kast also defended the legacy of former military dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who took power in a coup and ruled the country from 1973 to 1990. Under his leadership more than 3,000 people were murdered by the state or disappeared, and thousands of political opponents were held in internment camps.

In a tweet, Mr Kast said he had called Mr Boric to congratulate him on his “great triumph”.

“From today he is the elected President of Chile and deserves all our respect and constructive collaboration,” he added.

The country is going through huge changes after voting overwhelmingly last year to re-write Chile’s Pinochet-era constitution.

Mr Piñera said that Chile was living in “an environment of excessive polarization, confrontation [and] disputes,” and urged his successor to “be the president of all Chileans.”

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Obituary: Vicente Fernández, Mexico’s king of ranchera

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bbc– In 1998, just months before Mexican musician Vicente Fernández earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his eldest son, Vicente Jr, was kidnapped.

The artist was critically acclaimed and had sold tens of millions of records worldwide. But his fame had attracted the wrong sort of attention.

The kidnappers cut off two of Vicente Jr’s fingers. He was released after four months for a reported ransom of $3.2m (£2.3m).

But Vicente Fernández – wildly popular abroad as well as in Mexico – outright refused to leave his home country.

“I will live my whole life in Mexico. I want that to be clear. From my country, they will only take me out feet first,” he reportedly said.

Some 5,000 people came to see him receive his star on Hollywood Boulevard just months later – reportedly a record turn out.

Known as the king of ranchera music, a traditional Mexican musical genre, Fernández was a national treasure, a symbol of folk culture known and loved by millions.

His voice and his immense popularity at home and abroad earned him comparisons to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, as well as dozens of awards. He also created a musical dynasty, with his sons Alejandro and Vicente Jr becoming hugely successful musicians.

The 81-year-old passed away on Sunday in his home city of Guadalajara. The singer has been in poor health for months after suffering at his ranch earlier this year.

“We regret to inform you of his death on Sunday, December 12 at 6:15 a.m.,” a post on the singer’s Instagram page said.

Fernández was born on a ranch outside the Mexican city of Guadalajara on 17 February 1940. The city is the capital of the state of Jalisco, which is famous for its culture in general, and ranchera music in particular.

He grew up working on his father’s ranch and watching the films of Mexican actor and ranchera singer Pedro Infante, one of three traditional singers in Mexico at the time known as the Three Roosters. Infante was one of the inspirations for the character Ernesto de la Cruz in the 2017 Pixar film Coco.

“Some of my earliest memories, from when I was six or seven, are of going to see Pedro Infante movies and telling my mother, ‘When I grow up I want to be like them,'” Fernández said.

By the age of eight, he had learned to play the guitar and begun singing ranchera music. After a brief spell working odd jobs in Tijuana, where his family had moved after his father lost the ranch, Fernández returned to Jalisco to pursue a career in music full time in 1960, working as a busker and making occasional television appearances.

Soon after, he moved to Mexico City and sang in a restaurant to make ends meet, but he returned to Jalisco and got married after failing to get a record contract.

His big break came in 1966. Javier Solís, the last of the so-called Three Roosters, died after complications from surgery, and CBS Records offered Fernández a contract. He released his first album, Perdóname, that same year and has been with the label ever since.

In the decades that followed, Fernández became one of the most famous entertainers in Mexico. He released more than 50 albums and between 1971 and 1991 starred in dozens of films, for which he also occasionally wrote the soundtracks.

His albums sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and by the 1980s he had begun to tour throughout North and South America – dressed for every performance in a traditional embroidered charro suit and sombrero.

He was also critically acclaimed. Over the course of his career he won three Grammy Awards, eight Latin Grammy Awards, and more than a dozen Lo Nuestro awards for Latin music. Fernández even has a street named after him in the US city of Chicago and a statue of him in his home city of Guadalajara.

But Fernández was also for some a controversial figure. He has long been associated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed the country for 71 uninterrupted years from 1929 to 2000. Many of its high-ranking members have been arrested for corruption.

Fernández appeared at many political rallies, even performing a song at an official event for President Enrique Peña Nieto, a PRI politician who governed from 2012 to 2018. Mexican prosecutors have since opened a corruption investigation into the ex-president.

And in January 2021 he sparked outrage after footage emerged of Fernández grabbing a female fan’s breast. He later confirmed he had done so, telling the press: “I don’t know if it was a joke, I don’t remember… I apologise with all my heart.”

Fernández announced his retirement in 2012 but continued recording albums – releasing his last in December 2020. He also earned new fans through his Instagram account, where he shared family moments with his more than two million followers.

And in 2016 he performed one final time, in Mexico City’s massive Azteca Stadium, home of Mexico’s national football team. Some 85,000 people attended the event, which was also broadcast live in Mexico and the US and released as a record later in the year – earning him his third Grammy Award.

“There is one thing that cannot be bought even with all the gold in the world and that you have always given me,” he told the crowd. “Your affection, your respect and your applause.”

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