Coronavirus clouds Christmas celebrations for second year

Coronavirus clouds Christmas celebrations for second year

In St Peter's Basilica, the 85-year-old Argentine pontiff urged the faithful to "value the little things in life."

Pope Francis called for more solidarity with those living in poverty as he celebrated mass in Rome in front of a masked congregation of around 2,000 people, while billions around the world again marked Christmas under the shadow of the coronavirus.

An explosion in cases driven by the rise of the Omicron variant has meant a Christmas season tainted by the pandemic for a second year running, with Santa's arrival and longed-for family reunions overshadowed by the prospect of yet more COVID-19 restrictions.

In St Peter's Basilica, the 85-year-old Argentine pontiff urged the faithful to "value the little things in life."

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"On the night of love, may we have only one fear: that of offending God's love, hurting him by despising the poor with our indifference," said Francis, who later Saturday will give his traditional Urbi et Orbi address and blessing.

In the southern Philippines, standing in a pool of water in his typhoon-hit church, Father Ricardo Virtudazo celebrated Christmas Day mass with dozens of devotees who prayed for a better year after the storm killed nearly 400 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Millions of Americans were nevertheless on the move to see loved ones for Christmas, even as COVID-19 infections surpass the peak of the previous wave and hospitals run out of beds.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden and his wife Jill visited a children's hospital for the traditional Christmas book-reading by the first lady.

In Europe, governments are reimposing misery-inducing safety measures that are draining the fun from Christmas for many.

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Most Australians are allowed to travel interstate over the festive break for the first time in two years, with Sydney's Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher saying that Christmas was "a ray of light" in dark times.

And Santa Claus was not deterred from doing his rounds and been cleared for travel in Canada's airspace after showing proof of vaccination and a pre-flight negative Covid test, Ottawa's transport minister said.

According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command's (NORAD) Santa-tracking website, Father Christmas had delivered nearly five billion gifts and was flying over Canada at around 0200 GMT.

"He's been at it for many hours already and will go throughout the evening as well," said Major General Eric Kenny, commander of the Canadian NORAD region.

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