Americans celebrate Thanksgiving under pall of coronavirus

The exodus came despite warnings that mass travel threatens to significantly worsen the pandemic in the country hardest hit
Last Updated 26 November 2020, 17:28 IST

Millions of Americans defied public health guidelines on Thursday to spend a subdued Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends as coronavirus deaths surged worldwide.

More than a million people were screened at US airports on Wednesday -- the fifth straight day with roughly that number of air travelers bent on enjoying one of the biggest US annual celebrations.

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

President-elect Joe Biden offer a message of hope however in a Thanksgiving video address that rallied Americans to pull together to defeat the outbreak.

"I know better days are coming, I know how bright our future is. I know the 21st Century is going to be an American century," he said.

Vaccine breakthroughs have raised hopes for an end to the outbreak but much 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 getaway, indicating that he would be restricting celebrations to an online chat with his daughters over a glass of wine.

Globally, more than 60 million infections and 1.4 million deaths have been recorded 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's Thanksgiving numbers -- pandemic restrictions meant that there was a somber, stoical undercurrent to this year's festivities.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, a cherished tradition nearly a century old featuring giant balloons and colorful floats, went ahead in a truncated made-for-TV celebration across just one city block, with no crowds and much of it pre-recorded.

Biden described how he normally travels to the New England coast for a big family 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 know that a small act of staying home is a gift to our fellow Americans," he said in his message, posted to social media.

On radio and TV, chefs have been making suggestions on scaling down meals for smaller gatherings, or even sharing bits of what they cook and leaving it on the doorstep of friends and family, so it at least feels like a shared meal.

The New York Times asked readers to state in six words or less what they were grateful for and published some of these lines as Americans tried to make 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.

Outgoing President Donald Trump's White House has urged "all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship," despite the health risk.

But Biden called on them to hunker down and keep observing health guidelines until a vaccine becomes available.

"There is real hope, tangible hope. So hang on. Don't let yourself surrender to the fatigue," Biden said Wednesday.

While low-income frontline workers often face the biggest risks, the virus has also run rampant through the world's wealthiest and most powerful.

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.

While Britain and France are 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 cracking down on new outbreaks.

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

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

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

(Published 26 November 2020, 17:28 IST)

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