(Updating an article first posted on Nov. 21)
The stage lights are going out all over Europe. And elsewhere? Soon?
As another wave of Covid-19 rolls across the continent, theaters in Amsterdam, Vienna, Salzburg, Bratislava, Leipzig and Dresden have shut down. The Bavarian State Opera in Munich has reduced available seating, and a number of venues, including the Berlin Philharmonie and La Scala in Milan, are turning away those lacking documentation that they’re fully vaccinated. Some theaters are requiring both proof of vaccination and an onsite negative test result prior to admission. Masking is back.
Street protests against safety mandates have been proliferating – most recently a big one in Switzerland, one of the last places anyone would expect to be a flashpoint of unrest.
All that preceded the arrival of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. First identified in South Africa, it is spreading in neighboring African states and has begun to appear in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hong Kong and Australia. (The list is growing daily.) With anecdotal reports that it is more readily transmitted, and potentially infectious even to the fully vaccinated, Omicron threatens to hasten and prolong closures, not just of theaters and not just in Europe.
Nations across the world are banning flights from southern Africa and placing incoming travelers in quarantine. Israel has closed its borders to non-citizens. Morocco and Japan have suspended incoming international flights. Expect other countries to institute such measures.
“The fear factor has returned,” The Guardian’s Larry Elliott writes. He calls efforts to fend off Omicron once it has broken out “a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
ABOUT OMICRON: The most informative, balanced and lay reader-friendly primer I’ve read on the new variant and its implications is by The Atlantic’s Katherine J. Wu, who interviews Emory University virologist Boghuma Kabisen Titanji on what we already know and what we have yet to learn about this latest Greek letter from hell. “What’s known so far absolutely warrants attention – not panic,” Wu writes:
UPDATE (Dec. 7): Dresden’s Semperoper will offer vaccinations and boosters to all comers next weekend, with doctors on hand to administer the shots while the opera company’s musicians serenade them. Saxony, the state that’s home to Dresden, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Germany, Norman Lebrecht reports on his Slipped Disc blog: