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Pope Francis cancels New Year's Eve visit to Vatican Nativity scene as omicron spreads

Vatican Pope Francis
Posted at 8:13 AM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 08:13:03-05

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis canceled his New Year's Eve tradition of visiting the life-sized Nativity scene set up in St. Peter's Square to discourage large crowds from forming.

Meanwhile, major Italian cities scrapped their traditional Dec. 31 open-air concerts as Italy battles a record-setting surge in coronavirus cases.

Francis is going ahead with his traditional Dec. 31 vespers service inside the basilica and will celebrate New Year's Day Mass as scheduled.

The Vatican has largely followed Italy's lead in imposing restrictions on crowds. Many Italian cities are opting for streamed concerts or theatrical productions where access by the public can be controlled to check for health passes.

In addition, the city of Naples banned the use of fireworks outright in a bid to keep crowds from forming in a city known for its explosive Dec. 31 festivities.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 is muting New Year's celebrations worldwide, though many are still moving ahead as scheduled.