Americans celebrate Thanksgiving under pall of pandemic

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving under pall of pandemic

Friday, November 27, 2020

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AFP) — Millions of Americans defied public health guidelines yesterday to spend a subdued Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends as novel coronavirus deaths surged worldwide.

More than a million people were screened at US airports on Wednesday — the fifth straight day with roughly that number of air travellers bent on enjoying one of the biggest US annual celebrations.

The exodus came despite warnings that mass travel threatens to significantly worsen the pandemic in the country hit hardest, with a six-month high of more than 2,400 deaths registered in just the past 24 hours.

President-elect Joe Biden offered a message of hope, however, in a Thanksgiving video address that rallied Americans to pull together to defeat the outbreak.

“I know better days are coming, I know how bright our future is. I know the 21st century is going to be an American century,” he said.

Vaccine breakthroughs have raised hopes for an end to the outbreak but much of the world faces a gloomy winter dampened by lockdowns, economic anxiety and devastating loss.

Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said he was expecting “a surge superimposed upon a surge” caused by the big holiday getaway.

President Donald Trump, for his part, spent the day golfing at a course he owns in Virginia, taking time out to attack Biden's record-setting winning vote count in the election earlier this month.

“Just saw the vote tabulations. There is NO WAY Biden got more than 80,000,000 votes!!! This was a 100% RIGGED ELECTION,” he fumed on Twitter.

Globally, more than 60 million infections and 1.4 million deaths have been recorded since the new coronavirus emerged in China late last year, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

Despite the burst of travel in America — still far below last year's Thanksgiving numbers — pandemic restrictions meant that there was a resolute, stoical undercurrent to this year's festivities.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, a cherished tradition nearly a century old, featuring giant balloons and colourful floats, went ahead in a truncated made-for-TV celebration across just one city block, with no crowds and much of it pre-recorded.

Biden described how he normally travels to the New England coast for a big family feast, but would be staying home in Delaware this year for a small get-together.

“I know this isn't the way many of us hoped we'd spend our holiday. We know that a small act of staying home is a gift to our fellow Americans,” he said in his video message, posted to social media.

On radio and TV, chefs have been making suggestions on scaling down meals for smaller gatherings, or even sharing bits of what they cook and leaving it on the doorstep of friends and family, so it at least feels like a shared meal.

The New York Times asked readers to state in six words or less what they were grateful for and published some of these lines as Americans tried to make the best of the holiday.

“A furtive hug with a friend,” one entry reads.

“Windows have never been so important,” said another.

America's political divisions were also evident.

Trump's White House has urged “all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship”, despite the health risk.

But Biden has been calling on people to hunker down and keep observing health guidelines until a vaccine becomes available.

“There is real hope, tangible hope. So hang on. Don't let yourself surrender to the fatigue,” Biden said Wednesday.

Hopes faltered slightly, however, when British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, one of three firms that have reported their vaccine to be ready, said further research was needed after questions emerged over the protection it offers.

The manufacturer initially said its vaccine was 70 per cent effective, but then said it was 90 per cent effective when an initial half-dose then a full dose was given.

US scientists said the higher rate came during tests in people aged 55 and under.

While low-income front line workers often face the biggest risks from the virus, it has also run rampant through the world's wealthiest and most powerful.

Yesterday, Sweden's Prince Carl Philip and his wife Princess Sofia went into self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, the palace said.

While Britain and France are talking about easing their lockdown measures soon, Russia is still resisting stay-at-home orders despite registering record infections and deaths from the virus yesterday.

Countries that have had strong success against the virus are also cracking down on new outbreaks.

South Korea closed bars and nightclubs this week as it braces for a third major wave, with virus cases at their highest level since March.

“With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives,” Pope Francis said in an op-ed in the Times.

“The exceptions have been some governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences. But most governments acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak.”

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