Public health officials in Switzerland have already made a point of warning against singing in groups. The admonition came after 600 people attended yodeling concerts in September, leading to a virus hot spot.
So when a group of politicians in Parliament sang “Happy Birthday” to Ueli Maurer, Switzerland’s finance minister and former president who was turning 70 on Tuesday, critics cried hypocrisy, or at least inconsistency. Holding about 30 red balloons, most of the elected celebrants failed to wear masks or maintain their distance during the singalong.
In a separate celebration, a band played in Parliament, which also goes against the government’s recommendation.
“It is better to listen to Christmas songs over your sound system,” the government guidelines say.
The events have caused an uproar in Switzerland, which has struggled to keep the pandemic under control while maintaining looser restrictions than much of Europe. One member of Parliament posted a video of the birthday song on Twitter, leading to hundreds of angry replies.
Here’s what else is happening around the world.
The Russian capital will open 70 vaccination centers on Saturday with teachers, doctors and social workers the first in line to receive the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, Moscow’s mayor said on Thursday. City residents will have to register online in advance for time slots to avoid overcrowding. On Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a voluntary vaccination program to begin by the end of next week across the country. But several hospitals near Moscow already began administering the vaccine last week. Russian authorities rushed to offer it, and drew criticism for not waiting for large-scale efficacy tests to conclude.
Germany extended its lockdown, which includes the closure of bars and restaurants, to Jan. 10, three weeks after its restrictions were scheduled to expire on Dec. 20. Infection rates remain at over 50 cases per 100,000 people in a week, a goal that Chancellor Angela Merkel said allows health authority to trace individual infections. Health authorities registered 22,046 new cases on Wednesday, roughly the same as three weeks ago.
Greece is also extending its national lockdown, which was set to end on Dec. 7, by one week, a decision the government said was unavoidable with new daily infections steadily rising and a sharp spike in deaths. The rising number of new cases has stretched hospitals to the limit, particularly in northern Greece where the majority of infections are being recorded. As of Wednesday, it had a total of 109,655 confirmed cases and 2,604 deaths, most of which have been recorded over the past month.
Austria will loosen its lockdown beginning Monday, but bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least Jan. 7 and quarantines will extend to 10 days for arriving travelers. Those in quarantine will be allowed to take a free test after five days and can leave isolation early if it comes back negative. While announcing the changes, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz appeared to blame people with family abroad for reintroducing the virus to Austria when returning from visits at the end of the summer, prompting criticism in the country.
The former president of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, a modern-minded conservative who on his election in 1974 vowed to transform his tradition-bound, politically polarized country, only to lose his office seven years later after failing to accomplish his goals, died on Wednesday. His foundation said the cause was complications of Covid-19. He was 94.