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Dear Omicron, we won’t let you cancel Christmas

Only a week ago, Australians were beginning to drift gently into the Christmas season.

Party invitations were trickling in. Panettone started appearing on grocers’ shelves.

In Sydney, the bright purple jacaranda and fire-engine red flame trees burst into bloom.

And most importantly, for those of who have endured the anguish of international family separation since the beginning of 2020, reunion flights were being excitedly booked from all over the world.

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A Canadian friend was to have his parents arrive for a two-month stay, so they can meet their baby grandson for the first time. Another was joyfully co-ordinating the arrival of a wave of family members from Singapore. And another had booked her flight to see her elderly dad in South Africa.

Then along came Omicron, which kicked us all in the face.

The Omicron variant is making Australians nervous about plans to finally reunite with loved ones this Christmas. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

The Omicron variant is making Australians nervous about plans to finally reunite with loved ones this Christmas. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

It started small. A possible “variant of concern” has been detected in Africa, the first headlines read. Then the WHO agreed that yes, it was a concern and gave it a name – Omicron.

And from there, all hell broke loose.

Countries raced to slam shut their borders, either to African arrivals or – as in the case of Israel – to arrivals from anywhere in the world. Australia also banned non-citizens from travelling from southern African countries and slapped down instant quarantine rules – 72 hours at home for all arrivals, hotel quarantine for Australian citizens arriving from South Africa.

Not to be outdone, Western Australia thumped its border shut with South Australia, maybe misreading the region of concern on the WHO’s press release.

The result was chaos. People cancelled plans in droves. “I think Luke’s mum will have a breakdown if she can’t come to Australia,” said the Australian wife of my Canadian friend, her voice cracking from the strain.

“I am a complete mess today. I haven’t seen my family for two years,” said my friend with family in Singapore, having spent the morning in floods of tears.

Australians have already endured close to two years of derailed travel plans and painful separations from loved ones. Picture: iStock

Australians have already endured close to two years of derailed travel plans and painful separations from loved ones. Picture: iStock

“The worst part is missing out on my granddaughter’s formative years of two and three. It’s taken my son more than a month across an ‘evolving landscape’ to fill in forms, obtain permits, confirm flights, deal with the feds and now it looks like being derailed.”

It’s hard to see how Australians will find the strength length to deal with much more of this. With the exception of the wretched twits who attend anti-vaccination rallies, we have done everything we’re meant to do. We have locked ourselves away when asked. We’ve immunised ourselves to the eyeballs. Many of us missed out on Christmas 2020.

We’ve been so very, very patient.

And I refuse to accept that this wriggly little pathogen is going to bring us down this time.

The signs, as far as any of us laypeople can glean from the trickles of information coming in from those on the front line, don’t look too bad. Dr Angelique Coetzee, the South African medic who first alerted the world to the possibility of a new variant, says the cases she’s treated have been “no prominent symptoms.”

Many Australians had hoped to reunited with friends and family at Christmas. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

Many Australians had hoped to reunited with friends and family at Christmas. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

Prof Calum Semple from the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group has said rather briskly that “this is not a disaster” and that many of his colleagues are “hugely overstating” the severity of the problem.

I’m no virus expert but I am begging our leaders to exercise maximum compassion and level-headedness when it comes to making decisions about our borders in the face of Omicron. We must, they have said time and time again “learn to live alongside Covid”.

Physical health is important of course, but what is the price of our mental health? Our connection to our loved ones? Our sense hope and joy and life?

Omicron, you squirmy little mutant, I don’t know what nasty tricks you have up your sleeve. But I know that Australia will not let you crush our spirit, whatever you throw at us.

This year, in one way or another, Christmas belongs to us again.

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This article originally appeared on Escape and was reproduced with permission

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