Americans celebrate Thanksgiving under pall of pandemic

Millions of Americans defied Covid-19guidelines Thursday to spend a subdued Thanksgiving holiday with family andfriends, while questions emerged over the level of protection that onepotential vaccine offers, reports AFP.

About a million people were screened at US airports each day over the lastweek, as many appeared bent on enjoying one of the country’s biggest annualcelebrations.

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

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

“I know better days are coming, I know how bright our future is. I know the21st Century is going to be an American century,” he said.

British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, one of three firms that havereported their vaccine to be ready, said Thursday that further research wasneeded after questions emerged over the protection it offers.

The manufacturer initially said its vaccine was 70 percent effective, andthen said it was 90 percent effective when an initial half-dose and then a full dose were given.

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

Vaccine breakthroughs have raised hopes for an end to the outbreak, thoughmuch 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 heowns in Virginia, taking time out to attack Biden’s record-setting winningvote count in the election earlier this month.

“Just saw the vote tabulations. There is NO WAY Biden got more than80,000,000 votes!!! This was a 100% RIGGED ELECTION,” he fumed on Twitter.

Globally, more than 60 million infections and 1.4 million deaths have beenrecorded 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’sThanksgiving numbers — pandemic restrictions meant that there was aresolute, stoical undercurrent to this year’s festivities.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, a cherished traditionnearly a century old featuring giant balloons and colorful floats, went aheadin a truncated made-for-TV celebration across just one city block, with nocrowds and much of it pre-recorded.

Biden described how he normally travels to the New England coast for a bigfamily 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 knowthat 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 mealsfor smaller gatherings, or even sharing bits of what they cook and leaving iton the doorstep of friends and family, so it at least feels like a sharedmeal.

The New York Times asked readers to state in six words or fewer what theywere grateful for and published some of these lines, as Americans tried tomake 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 placesof worship,” despite the health risk.

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

While low-income frontline workers often face the biggest risks from thevirus, it has also run rampant among the world’s wealthiest and mostpowerful.

On Thursday, Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip and his wife Princess Sofia went

into self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, the palace said.

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

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

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

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

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