Holiday travel headaches and safety concerns mounted on Sunday with thousands of flight cancellations, canceled events and new Omicron cases skyrocketing as people close out Christmas celebrations bruised by a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic.
About 8,300 flights have been grounded and tens of thousands more delayed from Friday to Sunday — one of the busiest travel periods of the year — with multiple airlines acknowledging that the Omicron surges have led to staff shortages.
The effects have increased globally, and the pain is expected to seep into the workweek, with more than 1,100 flights already on Monday and nearly 300 more on Tuesday, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
The highly transmissible Omicron strain has seen new cases rise around the world, with countries reviving dreaded lockdowns, major sports leagues canceling Boxing Day football and rugby matches, and cruise ships returning to port carrying Covid-infected passengers.
In the Chinese city of Xi’an, 13 million residents were confined to their homes on Sunday amid tightened restrictions as the country registered the highest number of Covid-19 infections in 21 months.
Desperate to contain outbreaks ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, China has implemented a vigilant “zero-Covid” strategy, involving strict border restrictions, lengthy quarantines and targeted lockdowns. But there have been sporadic flare-ups.
Governments around the world are also struggling to encourage testing and vaccinations.
In the United States, top pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci warned of a Covid “testing problem” and promised to make more tests available next month as the virus swept the country.
“There are still problems with people who struggle to get tested,” Fauci told ABC News on Sunday.
“But we are addressing the testing issue,” he added, saying it should be corrected “very soon”.
Still, the cases have skyrocketed. The New York health department said the number of Covid hospitals for children has quadrupled in the past two weeks as Omicron took root.
In Florida, health officials said new Covid cases peaked to 125,201 for the week ending Dec. 23, four times the previous week’s total.
The state is a global hub for the cruise industry, and US health authorities said dozens of ships were checked for possible infection after at least two ships registered Covid outbreaks in recent days, despite taking extensive measures regarding vaccinations.
The Washington Post reported that several ships, including the Carnival Freedom — whose parent company confirmed to AFP on Sunday that a “small number” of passengers tested positive on board — were denied port in the Caribbean.
Brenda Hammer, who would be boarding the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Odyssey of the Seas, told AFP on Sunday: “I’m a little nervous about it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to come.”
Earlier this week, 55 people on the ship tested positive for Covid, which spread to passengers and crew despite 95 percent of people on board being vaccinated, the company said.
Air traffic, however, remained the biggest global headache.
Flight crew and ground crews have fallen ill or been quarantined after exposure to Covid, multiple airlines said.
Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines, British Airways, Alaska Airlines and several others have been forced to cancel flights.
JetBlue said it entered the holiday season with “the highest headcount we’ve had since the start of the pandemic”.
But “despite our best efforts, we have had to cancel a number of flights, and additional flight cancellations and other delays remain a possibility as we see more Omicron community spread,” the airline said in a statement.
Chinese airlines, notably China Eastern and Air China, have canceled thousands of flights over the long weekend, according to tracker data, including many going in and out of Xi’an Xianyang International Airport.
Flightaware.com reports that nearly 2,900 flights worldwide were canceled on Saturday, and 3,100 counting on Sunday, with more than 1,300 of those taking off or landing at US airports. More than 14,000 Sunday flights have been delayed.
The cancellations added to the frustration of many people eager to reunite with their families over the holiday season after last year’s Christmas was severely curtailed.
The American Automobile Association estimated that between December 23 and January 2, more than 109 million Americans would travel by plane, train or car, a 34 percent increase from the previous year.
But most of those plans were made before the detection of Omicron, which has become the dominant species in the United States, overwhelming hospitals and health professionals.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)