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Christmas market, Gottingen, 2011

Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021:

What should be a sequel feels more like a rerun. Remember last Thanksgiving? All the discussion about when to wear masks, whether to gather for the family dinner, whether to travel for the holidays? Resigned or defiant, we made our decisions, expecting that at least next year would be different.

Welcome to Covid Holidays 2.0. That’s TWO for two big changes. First, the variant. Delta, detected in India just last December, has become the dominant Covid force on the planet, turning it into a whole different epidemic. Second, vaccinations began in January 2021. Don’t get me wrong–I appreciate having protection from hospitalization and death, but there are some limitations I didn’t expect. For example, vaccinated people can spread the virus, so we still have to wear masks in many places. And no one knows how long the vaccination protection lasts. In 2022 will people vaccinated before a given date be considered unvaccinated? How long will it be–six months after your last shot? A year?

Last December cases reached a record high in California. The governor announced a new set of lockdowns based on ICU capacity. If the ICU capacity was within 15% of being full, the region it served was placed under severe restrictions. Los Angeles fell first. John and I had reservations at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, so we drove north on Dec. 3. The hotel, freshly decorated for Christmas, was restricted to 70% capacity, and even when picking up our dinner in brown bags we felt pampered.

Two days later the ICU’s in the Yosemite area were almost full and the hotel had to close on Monday, but that was when we planned to leave anyway. (See “Locking Down a Legend, Dec. 8, 2020).

Fast forward to Dec. 11, 2021. We have reservations for a Christmas Market cruise on the Rhine River. The ship, limited to 70% capacity, starts in Amsterdam. So far it’s still on. We’ve decided that even if all we do is stand on the deck and wave to Europe, it’s worth making the trip. If Ama Waterways cancels the trip, of course, we’ll go to Plan B. So how are things in Europe? Not so good.

A Fourth Wave has hit Europe. On Thursday Austria had a record high of 15,145 positive tests, making headlines when it imposed lockdowns on anyone who was unvaccinated. By Friday, the lockdown was expanded to the whole country and Chancellor Schallenberg announced that Covid vaccination would be mandatory by Feb.1.

Don’t be too hard on Austria. Remember, many countries already require a “green pass” or health card to enter indoor venues such as restaurants, bars, movies, theaters, and fitness centers. These countries include Israel, France, Italy, the Netherlands, etc. Requirements vary. But requiring evidence of vaccination, negative test, or previous infection is another way to lock out the unvaccinated.

I did a survey of Christmas restrictions last year. Here are a few examples compared with the situation today.

  1. The Netherlands: Dec. 2020: Under lockdown, but each household was allowed three visitors from Dec. 24-26. Today new Covid cases are over 20,000–a record high. Testing facilities and hospitals are overwhelmed. Partial lockdowns have been imposed, leading to riots in the streets. About 85% of adults are fully vaccinated.
  2. Belgium: Dec. 2020: Four people could gather outdoors, but only one guest could use the bathroom (!). Today: Belgium is hoping to avoid lockdowns, while urging people to work from home if possible and requiring masks indoors in most places.
  3. Germany: Dec. 2020: A hard lockdown was in place until Jan 10, but from Dec. 24-26 five people were allowed to get together. This week, Germany hit a new record with more than 65,000 new cases on Thursday. Chancellor Merkel and the 16 state premiers agreed on restrictions in regions where the Covid hospitalizations exceed 3 per 100,000 inhabitants. The extent of restrictions escalates with rising hospitalizations.
  4. France: Dec. 2020: An 8 PM to 6 AM curfew was in place until mid-January except for Christmas Eve. Home gatherings were limited to six adults plus any number of children. Today: Hoping to avoid lockdowns, President Macron is encouraging people to get vaccinated. France also requires a green pass for all indoor venues and events.

What about those Christmas markets? Last year: Many were closed, including Nuremberg, Cologne, and Dresden. Strasbourg’s market was open. Most Christmas markets in Belgium were closed. This year they have been setting up hopefully, but now many will have to be closed after all. This will be devastating for the economy in many areas. It’s like cancelling Christmas.

An article came up on my Google alerts today saying that Avalon River Cruises is cancelling their Christmas Market cruises this year. Ours is with Ama Waterways and starts Dec. 11. I’m sure they’re figuring out what to do. Do I need a Plan B?

Stay tuned.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Green pass: Which countries in Europe require a COVID vaccine pass to get around?” Euronews, Nov. 17, 2021. https://www.euronews.com/travel/2021/10/12/green-pass-which-countries-in-europe-do-you-need-one-for

“Dutch police open fire on rioters in demonstration against COVID restrictions,” NPR, Nov. 20, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/11/20/1057625905/dutch-police-open-fire-rioters-demonstration-covid-restrictions-rotterdam

“New Dutch coronavirus cases hit record high above 20,000,” NPR, Nov. 18, 2021.https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/new-dutch-coronavirus-cases-hit-record-high-above-20000-2021-11-11/

“Record high cases, more rules and partial lockdowns: A new Covid wave engulfs Europe,” CNBC, Nov. 18, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/18/covid-record-breaking-cases-as-europes-latest-wave-takes-hold.html?recirc=taboolainternal

“COVID: Germany introduces new measures to curb the pandemic,” DW News, Nov. 18, 2021. https://www.dw.com/en/covid-germany-introduces-new-measures-to-curb-the-pandemic/a-59852951

“Austria re-imposes a full Covid lockdown and makes vaccination mandatory,” CNBC, Nov. 19, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/19/austria-announces-national-lockdown-as-covid-cases-surge.html

“River Cruise Lines Cancel Christmas Market Itineraries as Austria Enters Lockdown,” Cruise Critic, Nov. 19, 2021. https://www.cruisecritic.com/news/6611/

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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