Merry Covid-19 Christmas

Meet the socially distanced Santa, clean off the gifts and don't forget to pull a vaccine out of the stocking

Photo: AP

Christmas is approaching overshadowed by pandemic fears across the globe. Do you know the most common inquiry received by the World Health Organisation (WHO)? Millions asked if Santa has taken a vaccine shot. And this is not a joke. The WHO was forced to come out with an official statement saying that Santa is well and untouched by the virus - the opposite would have been dreadful, having in mind Santa's age.

“Having virtual or socially distanced Santa visits can be the first step in showing us that this new normal can be just as good or fun as the traditional sitting in Santa's lap,” Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told CNN.

It would have been funny in any other year, but not in 2020. Countries and whole continents tighten lock-up restriction. Pandemic-driven business seems not to be like any other business.

Half of people who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 shutdowns were working in sectors that would experience a fast recovery, according to the Boston Consulting Group. The speed of economic recovery is centred on how quickly people are re-employed, how quickly their finances and spending improve and how fast businesses start reinvesting.

The only sector with robust growth is the one linked to e-trade and deliveries. That forced a dramatic change in a number of sectors. All airplane owners and leasing firms seek desperately to dump the dead chartered flights. It is absolutely impossible to travel to exotic destinations. Instead, airlines and leasing firms are rushing to permanently convert older passenger jets into freighters amid booming e-commerce and additional pressure to move large volumes of vaccines around the globe. The latter is a lucrative business spot with rising demand, high costs and government funded expenses.

That has created a huge opportunity for passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion companies. Aviation analytics firm Cirium expects the number of P2F conversions globally to rise by 36% to 90 planes in 2021, and to 109 planes in 2022. Air Canada is looking to convert several of its Boeing 767s, Russia's S7 Group is acquiring its first 737-800 converted freighters from lessor GECAS, and lessor CDB Aviation has ordered two Airbus SE A330 conversions from ST Engineering's EFW joint venture with Airbus.

Pilot rustiness, maintenance errors and even insect nests could be potential dangers for aircraft re-entering service. Travel restrictions have caused a huge decline in flying, with many planes put in extended storage. As a result, there has been a spike in the number of reported problems as planes return to service.

Permanent conversions are a financial bet that air freight demand, which was weak before Covid-19, will remain strong for years to come as shoppers turn to e-commerce. The airline industry estimates it will take until 2024 for passenger traffic to recover to 2019 levels.

But as air travel seems to be on the downside, more and more Europeans find alternatives. You have got a very good chance to stay safe, go round curfews and yet follow a dream to see the world. In times of pandemic, Europeans are discovering again travelling by night trains. And that is one good alternative to well-known but now frozen air trips across the continent.

The long trips with night trains are a lot different kind of travel than any other. Point one - you have the compartment only for you and your friends and family. It feels like a Covid-19 safety bubble - no social contacts until you reach the next city.

The rush for such travelling is so robust it made companies and countries reopen long closed destinations and lines. Here the assumption is that the rush will be long lasting.

Spearheaded by Austria's OBB, in conjunction with Germany's Deutsche Bahn, France's SNCF and Swiss Federal Railways, the collaboration will see four new “Nightjet” routes over the next four years. By December 2021, Vienna-Munich-Paris and Zurich-Cologne-Amsterdam will be up and running. Two years later, a Vienna/Berlin to Brussels/Paris will launch. And in December 2024, sleeper trains will start running between Zurich and Barcelona.

Many EU countries entered lockdown at some point during November and are now in 'lockdown-light' mode, where some restrictions have been lifted depending on infection rates. Many countries are still curbing the movement of people, whilst allowing them to celebrate Christmas on a small scale with just close family.

Italy is currently seeing the highest number of deaths since the end of March and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has told Italians to expect a “more sober Christmas, without Christmas Eve gatherings, hugs and kisses”. Many Italian regions are under partial lockdown and a ban on travel between different regions from 21 December to 6 January has been announced. Germany will enter a hard lockdown over the Christmas period, as the number of deaths and infections from the virus has surged in recent weeks. Non-essential shops and schools will close nationwide during the lockdown, which will last from 16 December to 10 January. Chancellor Angela Merkel has blamed Christmas shopping for a “considerable” rise in social contacts.

A maximum of five people from no more than two households are currently allowed to gather in a home. But this limit will be relaxed from 24 to 26 December, when one household will be able to host a maximum of four close family members from other households.

From 23 December to 6 January travel between Spain's regions will be allowed, but only to visit friends and family. Social gatherings on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day will be limited to 10 people - including children.

Restrictions have been eased ahead of Christmas after Austria came out of its second national lockdown on 7 December. A curfew has been introduced between 8pm and 6am and non-essential shops and other businesses have reopened. Restaurants and bars will remain closed over the Christmas period for everything but takeaways. Hotels are only open to business travellers, and people visiting from countries with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people will have to quarantine for 10 days.

Christmas is normally a golden time for British theatres. Families flock to see pantomimes - raucous seasonal shows combining fairy-tale plots with songs, satire and slapstick - and festive classics such as A Christmas Carol. Holiday-season revenue can carry venues through the rest of the year. This year, more than half the UK population is under tight restrictions that have forced theatres, concert halls, art galleries, museums and cinemas to shut their doors. That includes London, where theatres had just begun to reopen after a four-week national lockdown ended 2 December. Then the government slapped toughened restrictions on the capital because of a surge in infections.

Julian Bird, chief executive of industry groups Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, told AP the decision would cause “catastrophic financial difficulties for venues, producers and thousands of industry workers - especially the freelancers who make up 70% of the theatre workforce”.

But not all news is bad news. It seems that the Covid-19 Christmas is being bad, painful and poor only to some, and quite good and prosperous to others. China seems to lead markets out of the pandemic grip. The online trader Alibaba and the consultancy Bain said the Chinese luxury market would grow by 48% this year to about $52.9bn despite the pandemic. Bain and Alibaba project that the global luxury market will shrink by 23% in 2020, as the pandemic continues to limit travel and shopping in many places.

China rapidly suppressed early coronavirus outbreaks, allowing its economy to return to growth. By April, consumers in the country were starting to snap up expensive handbags, shoes and jewellery again, giving retailers some hope as sales in other markets faltered.

Travel restrictions helped boost sales in China. Another factor behind the surge has been dubbed “revenge spending”, or a release of pent-up demand as people emerged from weeks of lockdowns.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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