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Omicron Casts Shadow on Christmas 2021 in Greece and the World

Christmas 2021
Athens Christmas Tree Lighting in Syntagma Square on Tuesday, November 23. Credit: Kostas Bakoyannis/Facebook

Despite all the many ways in which the world rebounded from the worst of the coronavirus crisis this year, Christmas 2021 will surely be remembered for its similarities to Christmas 2020.

With major public events — even those that were to be held outdoors — being canceled, it is a bit discouraging to think of the ways in which this Christmas will differ from our traditional holidays, celebrated in complete freedom and abandon in former years.

Christmas 2021 brings a glimmer of hope

Still, there are more than a few glimmers of hope out there promising better days ahead for the New Year – including two new game-changing pills that will be used to treat the virus.

With hospitals around the world almost at capacity as they continue to struggle with the Delta variant of the coronavirus, and the Omicron strain posing an uncertain threat, governments around the world have canceled their planned festivities in fear of them becoming superspreader events.

On Thursday, Greece announced new measures to stem the spread of Omicron and Delta variants of Covid which include the mandatory use of face masks and the cancellation of Christmas and New Year festivities in open spaces.

Since the omicron Covid variant first arrived in Greece, a total of just 26 cases of the variant have been diagnosed in the country, and the daily case count is declining steadily.

Health officials fear, however, that the strain could spread rapidly and may even become the dominant strain of the virus in Greece.

    • Wearing a face mask will become mandatory in all indoor and outdoor areas. The measure also applies to indoor areas such as gyms and restaurants (at the entrance).
    • In public transport and supermarkets, the use of a double mask or the high-protection mask (KN-95) becomes mandatory.

Greece offers two free self tests for Christmas 2021

Greece will offer two free coronavirus self tests to all Greeks over the holidays to help curb the spread of the virus, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Tuesday.

Mitsotakis decided on the measure after health officials recommended that he make a negative rapid test mandatory for entrance to enclosed spaces such as non-essential stores, restaurants, and cafes, which are currently accessible only by those who have been vaccinated.

The PM stated that he “rejected” the proposal, as he believes “that such a measure would be unfair for the vaccinated and, in the end, very difficult to implement.

“So instead of imposing something on everyone, I chose to trust everyone. And for this very purpose, the state will provide two more free self tests for the entire population,” he added.

It is recommended that all Greeks take one free self test before Christmas and the other just after New Year’s day, but there is no requirement to use the self test.

“At this time, our weapons are tests,” PM Mitsotakis argued, noting “Everyone, vaccinated or not, must self-test” in order to stop the spread of the virus.

Two new pills to treat the virus authorized by the FDA this week

But there continues to be hope for the future, as the most brilliant minds on the globe continue to create vaccines and treatments to fight the virus. The US Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill for use on Wednesday of this week.

The pill, called Paxlovid, can now be prescribed by doctors for high-risk coronavirus patients over the age of 12 when they first develop symptoms.

This means that use of the oral drug could prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, as high-risk patients can stay home and may not require further treatment.

The FDA determined that the drug is safe; health officials believe it will be a key factor in reducing the number of deaths and admissions to the hospital among those with Covid-19, along with the Merck pill, which was just authorized one day later, on Thursday.

Although much less effective than the Pfizer product, coming in at 30% in the reduction of severe disease and hospitalizations in those at risk of severe disease, Merck’s molnupiravir is one more arrow in the quiver for physicians to use in the fight against the virus.

In other news that gave additional hope to the world this week, yet another anti-Covid vaccine came on the market: Covavax, from a company called Novavax, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, will add to the array of vaccines now available worldwide to combat the virus. It has now been approved by the World Health Organization and the EU to help in the fight against Covid-19.

Booster shots vital in fight against virus; up to 90% efficacy

Booster shots, which are now widely available in most places in the world, will enable most of us to be able to fend off the worst of the virus.

Moderna stated that its studies showed that a higher third dose of its vaccine, equivalent to 100 micrograms, prompted the creation of even higher levels of antibodies, over 80 times the levels seen before the booster shot.

Moderna officials state that they intend to create yet another shot that is specialized to fight the Omicron mutation; trials for the new product, being developed right now, will begin in the first few months of 2022.

Officials from Pfizer and BioNTech, the firms that produced the very first coronavirus vaccine, said recently that three inoculations of their product “neutralized” the omicron variant in new laboratory tests.

They then announced that they could deliver a reformulated vaccine in March of 2022 if that becomes needed in order to fight the new variant.

What with the added protection of the third booster shots, which well over 30% of eligible Americans and many Greeks have now had, as well as the pills to treat the virus on the way, we are well placed to be able to handle whatever viruses we encounter in the coming year.

Ultimately, nobody can cancel Christmas. So be safe, and get yourselves tested before attending those gatherings this time of year. Have a very merry Christmas 2021 and enjoy the peace that this most special time of year always brings.

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