America's President and President-elect have both released Christmas messages addressing the pandemic, although only Joe Biden spoke at length about the COVID-19 toll.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump tweeted out a pre-recorded video message on Christmas Eve in which they thanked first responders and members of the military.
Trump hailed the vaccine doses now being delivered and thanked those responsible. “It is truly a Christmas miracle,” he said.
An official Christmas message released by the White House on Christmas Day only referenced the pandemic obliquely, in thanks offered to military families, first responders, law enforcement officers, and frontline medical professionals who "work tirelessly to serve and protect our communities."
"While our gatherings might look different than in years past, this Christmas, like every Christmas, is an opportunity for us to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and show our heartfelt gratitude for the abundant blessings God has bestowed upon our lives and country," the Trumps' message said.
However, the video message from President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Dr Jill Biden reflected on the sorrow many families would endure over Christmas in the US, which has recorded around 330,000 COVID-19 deaths.
"Many families are facing their first Christmas having lost a loved one," Jill Biden said. "And Joe and I know that sorrow. And we know how, in times of grief, a kind word can mean so much."
"Jill and I wish you and your family peace, joy, health and happiness this season. But we know for so many of you in our nation this has been a very difficult year," President-elect Biden. "And we're reminded in this season of hope, our common humanity, and what we're called to do for one another."
"Many of our fellow Americans are struggling to find work, literally put food on the table, pay their rent or their mortgage, reminded we're on this earth to care for one another, to give what we can and to be a source of help and hope to friends and strangers alike," Biden added.
The Bidens confirmed that they were spending Christmas apart from their extended family, and urged others to do the same.
"For the Bidens, we usually have 20 to 25 people over Christmas Eve for dinner, but not this year," Biden said. "We're going to miss our family, but it's what we need to do to keep our families safe. We hope you'll consider limiting travel in the size of family gatherings as well this year."
On Christmas Day, Trump spent most of the day golfing, with close ally and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, according to a source familiar with his activities. In a tweet, he said he has had many telephone calls and meetings at his golf club and urged lawmakers to give people more money.
"Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600? It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!" he said, referring to the coronavirus stimulus payments he has threatened to veto unless the bill allows for larger direct payments and less foreign aid.
The bill is now at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Florida resort, where he is spending the holidays, awaiting his decision. Without Trump's signature on the coronavirus aid bill, about 14 million people will lose unemployment benefits on Saturday, and a partial government shutdown will begin on Tuesday.
On Christmas Eve, Trump tweeted a series of grievances, repeating baseless claims about the election result, including one aimed at Senate Republicans, whom he accuses of abandoning him because many now publicly recognise Biden as the winner.
On Christmas Day, Trump followed his tweet about aid payments to Americans with a flurry of posts, lashing out at the media with cries of "Fake News" as he said that he was going to hold a video conference with members of the military.
Separately, the White House said Trump was briefed on a Nashville vehicle explosion Saturday morning that injured three people in what police described as an "intentional act."
Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, whose victory Trump still refuses to acknowledge nearly two months after the November 3 election, spent the day at his Delaware home and had no public events, according to his staff.
The Bidens' message echoed the pandemic themes raised by the Queen and the Pope in their traditional Christmas messages.
"Of course for many, this time of year will be tinged with sadness; some mourning the loss of those dear to them, and others missing friends and family members distanced for safety when all they really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand," Queen Elizabeth II said.
"If you are among them, you are not alone. And let me assure you of my thoughts and prayers."
The Queen herself has had to eschew her traditional Christmas celebrations, and is spending the festive season quietly at Windsor Castle with her husband Prince Philip, 99.
Pope Francis in his Christmas message said political and business leaders must not allow market forces and patent laws to take priority over making COVID-19 vaccines available to all, condemning nationalism and "the virus of radical individualism".
In a sign of the times, Francis delivered his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message virtually from a lectern inside the Vatican instead of from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica before tens of thousands of people.
"At this moment in history, marked by the ecological crisis and grave economic and social imbalances only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, it is all the more important for us to acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters," he said.
Stressing that health is an international issue, he appeared to criticise so-called "vaccine nationalism", which UN officials fear will worsen the pandemic if poor nations receive the vaccine last.
"I beg everyone, heads of state, companies and international organisations to promote co-operation and not competition, to find a solution for everyone – vaccines for all – especially for the most vulnerable and needy in all areas of the planet," he said.
AP, Reuters, staff reporters
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