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World Looks on Horrified as Americans Gather for Thanksgiving

World Looks on Horrified as Americans Gather for Thanksgiving

On most of planet Earth Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020, is just another day. Here in the United States, of course, it’s Thanksgiving and the rest of the world is looking on in a combination of disbelief and horror as millions of Americans pretend like there’s no coronavirus pandemic and gather to celebrate.

In many areas of the country COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are at levels not seen since the start of the pandemic in the spring.

(Photo by Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Public health officials have been pleading with people not to travel to spend the holiday with others they don’t live with, warning that Thanksgiving dinner contains all of the key ingredients – a shared, indoor meal and inter-household mixing – to spark an even worse surge in cases in the coming weeks right before Christmas.

Still, more than six million Americans traveled by air between last Friday and Wednesday, according to the Transportation Security Administration. And nearly 40 percent plan to attend a “risky gathering” during the holiday season, defined as in excess of 10 people, with people from outside their household or both, according to a national survey by Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

“From Australia, this looks like a mindbogglingly dangerous chapter in the out-of-control American COVID-19 story,” Ian Mackay, an associate professor of virology at the University of Queensland, wrote to The Washington Post in an email. “Sadly, for some, this will be a Thanksgiving that is remembered for all the wrong reasons.”

Life in Australia mostly has returned to normal in recent weeks, but only because it imposed – and citizens readily complied with – strict regional lockdowns and border closures.

Yap Boum, a Cameroonian epidemiologist and regional representative for Epicenter Africa, the research arm of Doctors Without Borders, said Americans’ willingness to risk their health and that of their family’s and guests has left him befuddled.

“From my perspective, I found it really crazy,” he said. “On one hand, you see the people dying, on the other hand … you see that the vaccine is close. Why can’t you wait despite, of course … the mental challenge?”

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International news outlets and foreign journalists are equally puzzled, covering the U.S. Thanksgiving with a mixture of concern, bewilderment and schadenfreude.

“No nation suffers as much from corona as America — and yet in a few days a large part of the population here will meet to celebrate,” a U.S. correspondent for Germany’s Die Welt newspaper wrote this week.

Noting that many people were still planning to travel by air this week, London-based journalist James Ball tweeted that the United States was in “absolutely deadly, delusional denial about coronavirus.”

“Like mask-wearing, Thanksgiving has become another front in the country’s partisan left- and right-wing culture wars,” the Sydney Morning Herald observed. Indeed, sitting President Donald Trump’s 2020 Thanksgiving proclamation encouraged Americans to gather to celebrate the holiday, while President-elect Joe Biden asked the country to forego large gatherings as a matter of safety.

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