At first glance, it seems that New York City has regained its rhythm of pre-pandemic holiday. Unlike last year, Christmas markets have taken over the main squares of Manhattan and vaccinated tourists can once again swarm the streets of the Big Apple.
Biden to distribute 500 million free quick tests to be done at home
However, there are also images reminiscent of 2020, such as queues of hours in front of health centers full of New Yorkers waiting their turn to take a free COVID test because they have been in contact with a positive, have symptoms or simply want make sure you are not infected before traveling or seeing loved ones.
Katie Harris, who works selling jewelry at a Christmas booth next to an ice skating rink in Bryant Park, says that since the omicron variant began to appear more in the news, more and more customers stroll through the flea market wearing masks. “This is a foreign market and the air circulates, so the mask is not mandatory, but these weeks I have noticed that people cover themselves more,” says the New Yorker.
For many of the artists participating in Winter Village, their sales during the month of December are essential to their 2022 economy. “Everything is slower, there are far fewer tourists and fewer people overall,” says Andre, creator of T-shirts with animal prints. He says that this year he had to raise the price of his products and focus on doing more online advertising for his company to survive.
Pedestrian traffic on Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center during ‘Black Friday’ increased 262% compared to 2020 levels, according to data from the merchants association of this avenue. Around 260,000 people passed through Times Square during that weekend, which is double the number of the previous year, but also a drop of almost 100,000 people compared to the 337,000 people who passed through the area in 2019, according to the Alliance. Times Square.
New York at Christmas has been the source of inspiration for hundreds of songs and movies ranging from classics like “Miracle on 34th Street” to thrillers like “Eyes Wide Shut”, which is why seeing this city covered in colored lights is on the list of “things to see” for millions of people around the world.
Mehmet Aydoğdu has helped thousands of tourists to fulfill this dream with his bicycle: for three years he has been a “bike taxi” and has traveled the city of the Empire State on pedal with two or three people in a car, which for this time he has decorated with garlands and colored balls. “It is the most expensive transportation in New York City, because it costs $ 7 [algo más de 6 euros] per minute, “he says with a laugh.
The lack of tourism during the pandemic made this Turk have to park his bicycle for a season. Despite the fact that the borders reopened in November, Aydoğdu notes that the tourists he takes are mainly from the United States, both from neighboring states, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as from the southern states.
New York City ranks No. 1 for winter vacation tourism in the United States, according to surveys by multiple travel agencies. This is encouraging data for the city’s tourism industry, which before COVID was valued at more than $ 80 billion (70,678 million euros).
Michel Soto and Ignacio Pacheco say that since the pandemic began they have chosen to make national trips instead of international ones. A few months ago they went to Seattle and now they have opted for the Big Apple, in part because Soto is a fan of ‘Home Alone 2’ and wanted to see the huge Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in person. “He is better in person than in movies,” says Pacheco in front of the spruce that is more than 24 meters high.
“We have also been surprised by how much they ask for the vaccine to enter the sites. In California it is not so necessary,” emphasizes the Californian couple. New York requires that the vaccination record be shown when entering the vast majority of enclosed spaces.
The contagions multiply
However, COVID cases are increasing. “I don’t know what’s going on, but most of my friends are testing positive,” says a young Italian woman living in New York as she waits for a test at a clinic. In the first half of December, infections doubled. At the beginning of the month, the percentage of residents who tested positive in the previous seven days was 2.9%. Two weeks later it was 5.7%. The latest available data, of December 25, show that the increase has continued: the average percentage of residents who have tested positive in the last week is 15.55%.
According to data provided by the New York Department of Health, dated December 27, in the previous seven days there have been 208 hospitalizations and 10 deaths from COVID daily. The average number of confirmed daily cases during that period was 14,025, more than double the average of the last 28 days, which stood at 6,786. But there has not been the same increase in the daily number of hospitalizations and deaths, 139 and 12 respectively in the average of the last 28 days. In New York, 80.1% of residents have at least one dose of the vaccine and 71.5% have the full regimen.