Omicron coronavirus variant puts world on edge; US detects first case

South Korea identified 5,266 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, a record high for a second consecutive day, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a news release Thursday.

That breaks the previous record of 5,123 new cases, recorded on Tuesday. 

Last month, South Korea announced it would start “living with Covid-19” and began easing restrictions. But its reopening has coincided with record new infections, critical cases and deaths. Concerns over the new Omicron variant are also threatening the country’s recovery.

South Korea’s total confirmed cases increased to 457,612, while the death toll rose by 47 to 3,705, according to KDCA. Some 733 patients are in critical condition, KDCA said.

That’s despite high vaccination rates. As of Wednesday, 80.1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to KDCA.

Travel restrictions: The rise in cases has prompted authorities to mandate a 10-day quarantine for all incoming international travelers, including Korean nationals, starting Friday for two weeks.

The move came as five Omicron cases were reported by the country in travelers arriving from Nigeria. 

The mandate applies to travelers from all countries, regardless of their vaccination status, KDCA said.

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EU Urges Daily Travel Reviews, Booster Shots Over Omicron | World News

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union needs daily reviews of its travel restrictions and rapid deployment of vaccine booster doses to limit entry and protect its citizens from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Europe is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases and a growing number of infections by the Omicron variant that the World Health Organization has labelled a variant of concern and that has concerned scientists due to its multiple mutations.

“We are facing at the moment a severe double challenge,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference. “On one hand, we are amid the fourth wave… On the other hand, we are facing a new threat that is the new variant Omicron.”

The EU executive said that its 27 EU members needed to step up vaccination campaigns, with some 66% of the total EU population now inoculated. Vaccines for children between five and 11 will be eligible to receive vaccines from Dec. 13.

Von der Leyen also said that, with BionTech/Pfizer and Moderna set to deliver 360 million more doses by the end of March, there were boosters available to all those that had received their initial shots.

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“That is good news. So go get it,” she said.

She added she had understood from drugmakers that they would require around 100 days to adjust their vaccines if their existing vaccines did not protect from the Omicron variant.

Most EU countries have imposed travel bans for residents of South Africa, where the Omicron was first detected, along with surrounding southern African countries.

The Commission also urged EU members to commit to a day-by-day review of travel restrictions and a readiness to impose all necessary controls, including decisive action if clusters of the Omicron variant were found.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Marine Strauss; Editing by John Chalmers)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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Omicron coronavirus variant puts world on edge

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Covid-19 test at a temporary testing site outside Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.
A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Covid-19 test at a temporary testing site outside Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

South Korea recorded 5,123 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, a record single-day figure, according to a news release from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

KDCA said 5,075 of the new infections were locally transmitted, with 4,110 detected in the Seoul Metropolitan Area.

The country also reported 34 additional fatalities, bringing the total death toll to 3,658, according to KDCA. Some 723 patients are in critical condition, KDCA added.

South Korea has now reported a total of 452,350 cases.

As of Wednesday, 82.9% of the population had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose and 79.9% had been fully vaccinated, KDCA said.

Suspected Omicron cases: South Korea is investigating at least two suspected cases of the Omicron variant, with results due on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Health Ministry and KDCA will form a task force along with related ministries to respond to the Omicron variant.

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Live Updates: WHO Decries Travel Bans, Backs Omicron Testing | World News

GENEVA — The World Health Organization says “blanket travel bans” will not prevent the spread of a new coronavirus variant, while acknowledging that countries could order quarantines and take screening measures like testing travelers before or after arrival, or both.

The updated travel guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as dozens of countries have barred flights from southern African countries where the omicron variant was brought to international attention last week. WHO says the move unfairly punishes Botswana and South Africa for doing the right thing and being transparent about the emergence of a new variant.

Some health experts have countered that travel restrictions are effective, and many countries have bucked with WHO’s traditional recommendation against travel bans. WHO said that as of Sunday, 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at curbing the spread of omicron.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” WHO said, while acknowledging the use of screening measures to help stem the spread of omicron.

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In its statement, WHO said that so far, current PCR tests continue to be effective in detecting the variant.

The U.N. health agency also said “essential travel” for emergencies, humanitarian missions and transport of essential supplies “should continue to be prioritized.”

— New information shows omicron spread wider earlier than thought

— The EU’s medical agency says it will take two weeks to have an indication whether the current COVID-19 vaccines will be able to deal with the new omicron variant

— U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says new COVID-19 variant could slow the economy and hiring, while also raising uncertainty about inflation.

— Face masks are again mandatory in England in shops and on public transport due to the new variant

— See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at

MADRID — Health authorities in the Spanish capital have confirmed a second case of the omicron variant in a 61-year-old woman who had returned from a trip to South Africa on Monday.

The woman, who shows no COVID-19 compatible symptoms and was double-vaccinated, had arrived in a different flight to the first case of omicron recorded in Spain, a 51-year-old man with two doses of coronavirus vaccine who traveled over the weekend.

Both patients remain in isolation, the Madrid region’s health department said Tuesday.

Authorities in northeastern Catalonia said they couldn’t establish yet if two suspected cases of coronavirus were related to the new variant, saying the sequencing of samples would not likely be conclusive until Friday.

BUCHAREST, Romania — A Romanian state-owned aircraft brought 70 passengers from South Africa to Bucharest after concerns about the omicron variant of the coronavirus led to flight cancellations that left people stranded.

Romania’s foreign ministry said 46 of the passengers on the flight that landed Tuesday afternoon were Romanians and included a professional Romanian rugby team.

“European solidarity is a tangible reality,” Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu wrote online after the aircraft landed, noting that 18 EU citizens not from Romania were on the flight.

Seven Romanian citizens in Cape Town failed to board the repatriation flight due to logistical reasons or lack of a PCR test, authorities said.

The national champion rugby team, from Baia Mare in northern Romania, said authorities had undertaken “sustained efforts” to repatriate 31 team members who had been participating in a tournament in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Romanian authorities said Tuesday that 72 Romanian citizens stranded in Morocco after the North African country canceled almost all flights in response to the omicron variant are to be flown home later this week.

LISBON, Portugal — All air passengers coming to Portugal must board their planes with a negative coronavirus test if they want to enter the country beginning on Wednesday, when Portugal enacts its second state of emergency this year as it tries to stop a surge in new infections, authorities said Tuesday.

The director of Lisbon’s airport, Rui Alves, told reporters that travelers will be given different wristbands depending on where their trip originated to ease their identification during the airport screening process. The new entry rules were drafted before the first cases of the omicron variant were reported in the country in the last few days.

Those who fail to show a negative test face fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($340 to $910). Airlines that transport untested passengers could also be fined 20,000 euros ($22,600) per person and, if they persist, could even lose their license.

PCR or antigen test results will be required for those arriving by land from outside of the European Union and from most EU countries considered at high or medium-high risk.

RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had nothing but praise for South Africa on how it has alerted the world to the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

“I really want to applaud and express gratitude to South Africa and its government for its extraordinary transparency and also the very important work it did in detecting this new variant and in making it known to the world,” he said. “That’s exactly I think, a model of responsibility that South Africa has exhibited that we would hope everyone in the world would show, because we are all in this together.”

Blinken spoke Tuesday at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Riga, Latvia.

LONDON — New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus took effect in England on Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transportation, as the government said it would offer all adults a booster dose of vaccine within two months to bolster the nation’s immunity.

From Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

The reintroduction of mandatory face masks brings England closer in line with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — which had kept some restrictions in place after England lifted all mandatory measures in the summer.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new measures will “buy us time in the face” of the new variant. He said that while many people felt an understandable “sense of exhaustion” at the prospect of renewed restrictions, the U.K.’s position is “immeasurably better than it was a year ago.”

The government said Tuesday that 22 cases of the omicron variant have been identified, a number that is expected to rise.

ATHENS — Residents in Greece over 60 years old will have to undergo mandatory vaccinations against coronavirus or face monthly 100-euro ($114) fines beginning next year, the prime minister announced Tuesday, declaring the country’s first general inoculation mandate.

The Greek government decided upon the measure in response to a surge in new daily infections and the emergence of the omicron variant. It will take effect on Jan. 16 and the fines will be added to tax bills, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised statement.

Greece’s overall COVID-19 death toll exceeded 18,000 this week with confirmed new infections at high levels. Roughly a quarter of the country’s adult population remains unvaccinated.

Vaccination mandates were introduced over the summer for health care workers and fire service rescuers in Greece, with those failing to comply being suspended from their jobs indefinitely without pay.

The government has ruled out imposing new lockdowns but says it is targeting the elderly with tougher restrictions to protect the public health service as ICU occupancy is near capacity nationwide.

BERLIN — Germany’s national and state leaders will decide Thursday on new measures to tackle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, officials said after the country’s outgoing and incoming chancellors conferred with governors.

The measures are likely to include restrictions on shopping for unvaccinated people and limiting crowds at soccer matches, along with possible moves toward a vaccine mandate for all.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, held talks with Germany’s 16 state governors on Tuesday, hours after the country’s top court strengthened politicians’ hand by rejecting complaints against curfews and other restrictions imposed earlier this year.

Many states have tightened rules of their own accord, but experts and politicians have called for more coordinated national action as infection rates hit new highs.

MOSCOW — Russian authorities on Tuesday tightened coronavirus restrictions because of the omicron variant, even though the country has yet to report its first confirmed case.

Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, announced Tuesday that travelers arriving from countries where the risk of contracting the omicron variant of coronavirus is high will have to quarantine for two weeks. She didn’t specify which countries were on the list.

Popova also said that results of PCR tests for coronavirus, used in many Russian regions to gain access to public places, will remain valid for only 48 hours instead of 72 hours.

“The new variant indeed elicits serious concerns and demands immediate, comprehensive study,” Popova said.

GENEVA — The Swiss government says travelers arriving from Canada, Japan, Niger and Portugal will be required starting Wednesday to present both a negative COVID-19 test and undergo a 10-day quarantine.

The new measures were announced on Tuesday after cases of the newly identified coronavirus variant omicron turned up in those countries.

On Friday, the Swiss government initiated a similar requirement for travelers from Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, and banned all flights from seven countries in southern Africa where cases of the variant were first detected.

WASHINGTON — Drugmaker Regeneron says that its COVID-19 antibody cocktail may be less effective against the omicron variant, though the company says more testing is needed to gauge the effect.

Regeneron’s cocktail is one of three antibody treatments that have become the standard U.S. treatments for COVID-19 patients who do not yet require hospitalization. The federal government has purchased and distributed millions of doses of the drugs, which are infused or injected by health professionals.

Because of mutations in the omicron variant, health authorities have warned that some vaccines and antibodies may lose their potency.

Regeneron says it is doing more analysis to define the variant’s impact on its drug’s effectiveness.

The company also says it is testing alternate antibodies that may be more effective against the new variant.

MADRID — Spain’s government has banned flights connecting air routes from South Africa and six neighboring countries to the European country due to fears of the new omicron coronavirus variant.

The order affects any connecting flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Spain has no direct flights to southern Africa. The order will take effect on Thursday.

Spanish health authorities have reported one confirmed case of the omicron strain in a 51-year-old man who flew from South Africa to Madrid via Amsterdam. He was fully vaccinated and is showing mild symptoms. Three more possible cases are under investigation.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, though the World Health Organization warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was discovered in South Africa, underscores the point that “none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

Speaking in Riga, Latvia, during a two-day meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, Blinken also noted “a real disparity” between vaccinations in Africa and the United States and Europe.

“We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70%, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15% or less.”

He noted that sometimes the supply of vaccines may actually be sufficient to meet the needs, but the ability to get shots in arms is lacking.

He said the United States was working on a solution that “brings the private sector into the game to help solve these last-mile problems of getting shots and arms. We’re putting that into into motion now.”

BRUSSELS — The omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The WHO said South Africa first reported the the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged — but that hasn’t stopped nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa.

Much is still not known about the variant — though the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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I used to work at Disney World and here’s how you can get into the parks before everyone else

AN ex-Disney employee has revealed how to get into the parks ahead of everyone else.

Long queues are inevitable when you go somewhere as popular as the Disney parks, but this tip can help you skip the first queue of the day by getting in early.

An ex-Disney employee has revealed how to get into the parks ahead of everyone else


An ex-Disney employee has revealed how to get into the parks ahead of everyone else

Tiktok user Taylor, who uses the handle @tay_johnston, is an ex-Disney employee and big Disney fan.

She advises visitors to arrive at the parks 45 minutes before they are scheduled to open as they often open early.

That way, you’ll be the first people in the parks and won’t have to queue to get on the first ride of the day.

She says to head straight to the most popular rides as they are the ones that have particularly long wait times so are the best to get done early.

She said: “Last week I went to Disney and all four parks opened 45 minutes early.

“Disney regulars call this ‘rope dropping’ – it’s just when you are among the first group of people to walk into a park on any given day.

“It’s worth is for rides that have historically long wait times, like Splash Mountain, Flight of Passage or Slinky Dog Dash.”

The video has racked up nearly 80,000 views, with some people commenting on how they’ve used the tip.

One person commented: “When I was younger we got there so early we got to open the park and ride two rides before it opened.”

Another person wrote: “I was there last week – can’t believe how early they opened the gates.”

And someone else wrote: “Yes! We love to rope drop!!”

Another ex-Disney employee has revealed the things guests should avoid buying at the theme park.

She advises visitors to arrive at the parks 45 minutes before they are scheduled to open


She advises visitors to arrive at the parks 45 minutes before they are scheduled to open
Disney fan reveals hidden secret eating area in the parks without the crowds

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Hong Kong Expands Travel Curbs on Omicron Fears, Australia Reports 5 Cases | World News

By Marius Zaharia and Renju Jose

HONG KONG/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Hong Kong expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries as global health authorities raced to curb a potential outbreak of the Omicron virus, while Australia’s cabinet will review on Tuesday containment steps after five tested positive.

Singapore’s health ministry said two travellers from Johannesburg who tested positive for the variant in Sydney had transited through its Changi.

Omicron – first reported in southern Africa and which the World Health Organization (WHO) said carries a “very high” risk of infection surges – has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic.

Hong Kong is among the latest to expand travel curbs. In a late Monday statement, city authorities said non-residents from Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia would not be allowed to enter as of Nov. 30.

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“The most stringent quarantine requirements will also be implemented on relevant inbound travellers from these places,” the statement said.

Additionally, non-residents who have been to Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel and Italy in the past 21 days, would not be allowed to enter the city from Dec. 2, it added.

The global financial hub, among the last places in the world pursuing a zero-COVID strategy, earlier banned non-residents arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

In Australia, the five travellers with Omicron are all vaccinated and in quarantine, health officials said, adding they are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms.

Canberra delayed on Monday the reopening of the nation’s borders for international students and skilled migrants, less than 36 hours before they were due to be allowed back in.

“We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution but our overwhelming view is that whilst (Omicron) is an emerging variant, it is a manageable variant,” Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told a media conference in Canberra.

Growing hopes that Omicron will be milder than feared have helped restore some calm to markets this week, after a rout on Friday that saw roughly $2 trillion being wiped off the value of global stocks. [MKTS/GLOB][FRX]

Traders also took comfort from remarks by President Joe Biden that the United States would not reinstate lockdowns.

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

“We’re going to fight and beat this new variant.”

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong, Renju Jose in Sydney and Reuters bureaus; Wtiting by Himani Sarkar; Editing by Shri Navratnam)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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7 Incredible Christmas Window Displays To Visit Around The World

When department stores unveil their holiday windows, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. In the last 2 years, these windows have become signs of hope, goodwill, and optimism — more than ever before. 

Christmas wasn’t canceled last year, but in Melbourne, where I live, Myer, our 1911 department store, canceled its 65-year-old tradition of Christmas windows due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Melburnians were horrified as these windows equate to nostalgia and childhood memories. Each year over one million people normally file past the Bourke Street store. many with their pajama-clad children hoisted on their shoulders — their eyes agog at the window tableaus depicting treasured childhood classics such as The Nutcracker, Aladdin, and The 12 Days Of Christmas.

It felt like COVID had stolen Christmas — never mind the Grinch. 

Myer relented and created in 6 weeks windows that would normally have taken its design team six months to finalize. It based Its 2020 windows on an original story it commissioned by writer Corinne Fenton called Christmas is Uncancelled

Fenton says: “I felt strongly that the words for these windows had to be sincere, as right now the people of Melbourne need honesty. The words, ‘It’s Christmas After All’ came through loud and strong to me. After all, it infers that after all we’ve been through, in spite of the hard times, the struggles, the sickness, and the suffering, Christmas is still being celebrated by our city, by the Melbourne people, and by Myer.” 

In one tableau, Santa’s workshop was in lockdown; elves wore masks and complained how stuck and bored they felt. But how they will find a way to save Christmas. And they did.

Attendance was sparser than usual, but the show went on.

Myer rising to the occasion made me think about what Christmas means. And how it’s more than spending money on gifts and a chance for department stores to showcase their wares. So many of our famous department stores see themselves as integral to the Christmas tradition using their windows to mirror the way the world is or could be. 

So here’s what to expect from some of our best-loved department stores in our much brighter Christmas of 2021. A Christmas when people are out and about and even traveling overseas — placing them in the vicinity of some of the world’s great department stores. 

Macy's in New York City
Photo Credit: Macy’s

1. Macy’s, New York City

Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street has decorated its windows every Christmas since 1874. The store’s first Christmas window was scenes from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, using porcelain dolls. In 1883, the store introduced a panoply window (a circular track) showing Santa pulled by a reindeer. Word spread of Macy’s “miracle.” 

Holiday window displays have since become a fixture in New York City, such as those at  Lord & Taylor, Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks Fifth Avenue. But when it comes to Christmas, people still think of Macy’s. Perhaps because scenes from the movie Miracle on 34th Street were shot in Macy’s. And many of Macy’s windows have been based on this famous film. 

Last year was different. Macy’s dedicated its 2020 holiday windows to essential workers as “a form of a thank you letter to first responders, essential workers, marchers for equality, and New Yorkers who showed their grit, good humor, and hopeful spirit” during a particularly trying year. 

This season, you can expect to meet Tiptoe, a gorgeous little blue reindeer who is too scared to fly until her friends help her out with a balloon flying machine. The balloons burst and Tiptoe discovers she can fly on her own even though she takes Santa on a bumpy ride. To fly, she only needed to believe. 

In the accompanying commercial bound to reach you in the lead-up to Christmas, Tiptoe’s story ends with a little girl at the airport reluctant to fly to grandma’s and her father alleviating her fears by telling her Tiptoe’s story. She starts to feel confident, believing that she can board that plane — a timely message as we head out into the holiday season and the world. 

Window display at Selfridges, London
Photo Credit: Selfridges

2. Selfridges, London

Many of us know of Selfridges from the British television series about the founder Harry Gordon Selfridge. In 1909, Selfridge brought his department store concept from Chicago to London, including the American way of celebrating Christmas. He had every inch of his store decorated for the festive season. But the windows were, and remain, the real crowd pleaser. Selfridges window displays are sometimes controversial but always artistic and often feature the work of hip new artists.

This year’s theme is Christmas of Dreams. The windows draw inspiration from Busby Berkeley’s 1930s Hollywood visions and technicolor film musicals from the 1950s. There’s a focus on British actress and singer Jane Horrocks and drag artist and sculptor Juno Birch. It’s like Christmas on steroids. 

In describing the dream theme, Andrew Keith, Selfridges Managing Director, said, “We know our customers have been dreaming of being together… And after a year of so many families being separated, this Christmas is for many a dream come true.” 

Photo Credit: Daniel Thierry / Paris Tourist Office

3. Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, Paris

Galeries Lafayette on Haussmann Boulevard is one of the world’s most beautiful department stores. Opened in 912, the architecture was inspired by Opéra (the Parisian opera house), and the interior features striking Art Nouveau balconies and jaw-dropping stained-glass dome. Each year, the store hangs a gigantic Christmas tree from the dazzling dome trimmed in accordance with the theme set by the window display. For example, in 2015, the window’s theme was A Christmas From Another Planet with robots, Jedi, R2D2, and Stormtroopers, so the store decorated the Christmas tree with stars and meteorites.

Last year, the windows displayed 11 scenes showing Céleste, a little girl who traveled the world to meet fantastic characters (inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince). Ironically people couldn’t travel then, but the gaily colored display lifted people’s spirits — as Christmas should. Galeries Lafayette reveals this year’s theme on November 17, 2021

Pro Tip: Galeries Lafayette is one of many incredible Christmas window displays in Paris. For a walk past the best displays, see The Best Things to Do In Paris During Christmas

"Those Who Shine" display at Brown Thomas in Dublin
Roman_Overko /

4. Brown Thomas, Dublin

The unveiling of the Brown Thomas Christmas window in Grafton Street marks the start of the festive season in Dublin. This year, Christmas came 127 days early. To make up for the Christmas that wasn’t, Brown Thomas launched the windows digitally last year. The 2021 Christmas windows are luminescent, shimmering theater sets, each representing a moment of festive celebration with a hint of glittering disco. The theme — Those Who Shine — showcases scenes around the Christmas table of people coming together with loved ones for gift giving and getting all glammed up for sparkling celebrations. A very different Christmas than last year. 

Window display at Smith & Caughey's in Auckland
Photo Credit: Smith & Caughey’s

5. Smith & Caughey’s, Auckland

All major cities seem to have a department store that has stood the test of time. In Auckland, Smith & Caughey’s has been in its present Queen Street location since 1884. The store is just reopening as Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has been closed for almost 3 months during a lockdown. The much-loved tradition of Smith & Caughey’s Christmas window depicts the children’s book The Fairies’ Night Before Christmas by New Zealand writer Sarina Dickson, illustrated by Sarah Greig. The story is a Kiwi take on The Night Before Christmas. The windows depict a forest fairy community working together under the shade of Pōhutukawa trees, a tree known as  New Zealand’s Christmas tree because of the blazing red flowers around Christmastime. The scenes show the fairies pulling together in a crisis and how resourceful, clever and adventurous they are. Onlookers will identify with the rousing scenes after what has been a challenging year. No doubt these windows will long be remembered. You can see the windows here

Window display at the McCord Museum in Montreal
Photo Credit: Musée McCord

6. Ogilvy At The McCord Museum, Montréal

Many Montrealers will recall the Christmas tradition of visiting Ogilvy’s windows. The custom-made scenes by the German toy manufacturer Steiff featured mechanical toy animals, such as dancing ducks, cheeky monkeys, adorable hedge-hogs, and jumping frogs. These window displays were among the last of their kind in North America, and visiting them had been an annual tradition since 1947. 

Part of that tradition was standing in the snow and warming one hand curled around a cup of hot chocolate.

Ogilvy donated the beloved installations to the McCord Museum in 2018. The Mill in The Forest scene is outdoors, so the snow boot viewing tradition continues. The second display, The Enchanted Forest, is inside. The outside attraction is free.  The McCord Museum is also offering free entry to its interior from October 13, 2021, to January 19, 2022.

Last year, Melbourne Museum held a similar display called Make Believe the Story of the Myer Christmas Windows, showcasing 65 years of Myer’s Melbourne windows. Museums recognize how these windows are an important part of our social history — of how they offer a window into a community’s soul.

Window display at Myer in Melbourne, Australia
Photo Credit: Myer

7. Myer, Melbourne 

Myer Melbourne was started by Sidney Baevski Myer, a penniless Russian who spoke little English who emigrated to Australia in 1899 and sold goods door-to-door. His store became the biggest department store in the southern hemisphere. While no longer the largest, the store is ingrained in our culture. My parents took me to see the Myer Christmas windows when I was a child, and  I, in turn, took my children.

Myer Melbourne will launch its windows on November 14, 2021. Like many department stores, the theme is under wraps to increase the mounting excitement. But no doubt, it will be a tearjerker. I’m almost sorry I won’t be in the country to see the unveiling. But Australians can travel again, so I will visit my family in the U.S. I imagine the tears will definitely flow as Melburnians file past those famous windows, and I file past customs into the arms of family.  

In Melbourne, we spent more time under stay-at-home orders (we call them lockdowns) than any other city in the world — 262 days or nearly 9 months, since March 2020. Like many Melburnians, I stopped counting days. The Christmas windows signal our freedom. And whether it’s Fortnum & Mason, London; Bergdorf Goodman, New York City; Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; or KaDeWe, Berlin, each city has its famous Christmas windows. What will your city’s holiday windows mean to you this year?

Here are some other Christmas events to consider:

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New Covid-19 variant Omicron cases, travel updates from around the world

India has revised travel guidelines for all international arrivals in response to the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Beginning December 1, all international passengers must submit a self-declaration form to an online government portal that includes a 14-day travel history and a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to their departure, according to guidelines issued by India’s Health Ministry.

Travelers from countries deemed “at-risk” will also now face further testing and surveillance, including a PCR test on arrival.

They will also have to quarantine at home for seven days.

As of November 26, “at-risk” countries include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, as well as “countries in Europe including the United Kingdom,” Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

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Travel Curbs Aimed at COVID Variant Tighten Across the World | World News

HONG KONG (AP) — Australian officials were racing Sunday to conduct further tests on passengers arriving from southern Africa who tested positive for COVID-19 to determine if they were carrying the omicron variant as nations around the world tightened controls against the worrying new strain.

Neighboring New Zealand announced it was restricting travel from nine southern African countries because of the threat posed by the variant, and Japan widened its border controls to include more countries from the region. Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travelers from certain countries, announced a ban of its own on visitors from eight African counties. Similar restrictions took effect in the business hub of Singapore, which is barring entry and transit to anyone with a recent history of travel to seven southern African nations.

The tighter restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region echoed steps rapidly taken by countries around the world to limit the spread of the omicron variant just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa. The act first, ask questions later approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant nearly two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, upended lives and disrupted economies across the globe.

While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines and could mean that the pandemic lasts for longer than anticipated.

Cases involving the omicron variant have already been confirmed on multiple continents, with Germany, Italy, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong all reporting cases in recent days.

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The United States’ top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the U.S., too.

“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility … it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said on NBC television.

In Australia, the New South Wales health department said Sunday that urgent genomic testing was being done on samples taken from two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa the day before and tested positive on arrival.

The department said the travelers were from one of nine African countries that are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Sydney. The countries are South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi and the Seychelles.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the island nation was taking a precautionary approach. From late Sunday, only New Zealand citizens from nine African countries will be allowed entry to New Zealand, and they will be required to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel run by the military.

Hipkins said officials were confident the variant hadn’t entered New Zealand and they were well placed to keep it out.

Many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran and the U.S., in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant. This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Thailand Bans Entry of People Travelling From Eight African Countries | World News

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Saturday said it would ban entry of people travelling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new B 1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, a senior health official said.

Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, the official told a news conference.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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