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Just when you thought the pandemic could hold no more surprises, the Omicron grinch has brought America something new for the holidays: the festive panic. In New York City especially, the number of people, and energy level, in stores and restaurants and on the streets is remarkable given our supposed death rattle. It isn’t that people aren’t afraid. Of course they are. But they’re not as afraid as they were a year ago. Count me, triple-vaccinated, among the brave: I’ve been out and around town, repeatedly testing negative — but tested again as I write this after learning a relative at a Christmas gathering had tested positive. Sure, nervous corporate suits scrapped live audiences for “Saturday Night Live.” Broadway theaters and other performance venues closed for nights at a time due to a single company member having asymptomatic COVID. But Apple’s reversal is a better barometer of the mood on the street. After announcing the total closure of all its city stores earlier this week, the company partly backtracked Tuesday and said it was reopening them to a reduced number of customers. Apple learned the hard way from a torrent of Twitter howling (e.g., “You are destroying this city!!!!!!”). So should others take the cue. For all the warped coronavirus “science” on which no two scientists agree, most people are voting with their appetites, their wallets and their wanderlust.
They’re defiant in the face of nerve-grating pronouncements and warnings from the Fauci/New York Times/CNN virus-forever complex. They spew horrible news 24/7: Breakthrough infections among the vaccinated! Omicron’s unprecedented contagiousness! Amidst so much gloom untempered by context or nuance — such as the fact that most Omicron cases among fully vaxxed people are about as eventful as common colds — one would expect a fear-frozen metropolis would be “sheltering in place” as in the darkest days of spring 2020.
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It’s nothing like that, of course — as a stroll on any block except for in a few Hamptons-happy neighborhoods attests.
Christmas weekend air travel was widely reported, but most of the media got the story wrong. The real news wasn’t widely regurgitated (and entirely predictable) accounts of flight cancellations, pilots too sick to fly and general airport chaos (as if those things didn’t happen to a lesser degree every holiday season). What mattered, rather, was how many people took to the air in spite of it all. On Friday, Christmas Eve, more than 1.7 million people went through TSA checkpoints. They were 800,000 fewer than the 2019, pre-COVID total — how could it be otherwise given the level of hysteria? — but more than twice the 846,520 fliers on Christmas Eve 2020. Business is off at many Big Apple restaurants — again, how could it not be? — but the news is how busy they remain. Even the “Ban indoor dining” mob has shut up despite soaring virus positivity. Most restaurants are open for New Year’s Eve complete with festive trimmings. Many offer special holiday meals, such as $395 for five courses at Marea on Central Park South — a place that recently closed for three days after a staff COVID cluster.
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Peak, a celebration dining-with-a-view venue 1,000 feet high at Hudson Yards, told me it has a waiting list of 1,000. It’s been sold out for months. There are cancellations but “we replace them in 20 minutes” on the RESY site, the manager said. One reason for people’s stiffening disregard for government “guidance” is that most have learned to recognize baloney after being fed it for nearly two years.
On Tuesday, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention radically revised downward its estimate of Omicron prevalence — from 78 percent of US cases the week ending Dec. 18 to a mere 23 percent. Oops, off by 55 percentage points? Never mind. The CDC’s current estimate is 59 percent. Pick a number, any number! There are even signs that leftist and merely liberal politicians are waking up. Gov. Kathy Hochul, incoming Mayor Eric Adams and outgoing empty-suit Bill de Blasio presented a united front Tuesday to declare that public schools will reopen next week and stay open. Maybe it was a warning shot across the bow of the teachers union, which would happily give its members another six months off.
But just maybe it was a sign that panic days are finally numbered.