NEW YORK－More than 6,000 airline flights were canceled worldwide over the long Christmas weekend and thousands more were delayed, a tracking website reported on Sunday, as the highly infectious Omicron COVID-19 variant brought holiday hurt to millions.
Compounding travel chaos in the United States, severe weather in the country’s west was due to wreak havoc on roadways and other routes there, although a white Christmas weekend was on the cards for the cities of Seattle and Portland in the northwest.
Flightaware.com said more than 2,800 flights were canceled worldwide on Saturday, including more than 990 originating from or bound for US airports, with more than 8,500 delays by Sunday morning.
On Friday there were about 2,400 cancellations and 11,000 delays, and on Sunday nearly 1,500 cancellations and more than 1,400 delays were reported.
Pilots, flight attendants and other employees were left calling in sick or having to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, forcing Alaska Airlines, Delta, Lufthansa, JetBlue, United Airlines and many other short-staffed airlines to cancel flights during one of the year’s peak travel periods.
The cancellations added to the pandemic frustration for many people eager to reunite with their families over the holidays, after last year’s Christmas was severely curtailed.
The American Automobile Association estimated that more than 109 million US citizens were due to travel by plane, train or motor vehicle between Dec 23 and Jan 2, 34 percent more than last year.
But most of those plans were made before the outbreak of Omicron, which has become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the US, overwhelming some hospitals and healthcare workers.
In France, 104,611 infections were reported in the 24 hours to Saturday, the third consecutive day record numbers had been registered highs.
Those figures from the public health agency foreshadowed a videoconference on Monday in which President Emmanuel Macron and key members of his government were to discuss new measures to contain the spread of Omicron.
On Friday the agency called on adults to receive a booster jab three months after their initial vaccination.
Now the government is moving to make the health pass issued to the vaccinated valid only if people accept the booster jab.
In England, thousands of people spent a few minutes of Christmas Day lining up under leaden winter skies to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the Omicron variant fueled a surge in infections across the country.
The Good Health Pharmacy in north London was one of dozens of vaccination sites that kept doors open on Saturday to administer vaccine shots amid a government push to offer booster shots to all adults by the end of the year.
Britain has expanded its booster program over the past two weeks, reopening sports stadiums and cathedrals as inoculation centers, after research showed that two doses of the vaccine were insufficient to protect against the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
In Central America, Nicaragua received a new batch of COVID-19 vaccines donated by China on Friday, the second in a month.
Nicaragua appreciates and acknowledges the solidarity of the Chinese government and people, a presidential adviser said, calling the shipment “a great Christmas gift from the Chinese people”.