Christians in Oman gloomy as Omicron overshadows Christmas

Government is not taking chances with the highly contagious variant of Covid-19

Saint Peter and Paul Catholic church in Muscat. Some 300,000 Christians live in Oman. AFP
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The 300,000 Christians who live in Oman are disappointed that they will have to celebrate a quiet Christmas in their own homes.

The sultanate will limit gatherings to curb the spread of Omicron, the Covid-19 variant that has shocked scientists with how quickly it can spread.

There are more than 20 churches in Oman, mainly used by expatriates from India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Britain, Serbia, Russia, Syria and some African countries.

Church leaders say that there will be great disappointment among congregations unable to celebrate Christmas in the way they usually do each year.

“We are following government regulations not to have gatherings during Christmas,” Syrian national Father Dimitri Mansour, who is the priest of a Greek Orthodox Church in Ghala, an area of Muscat, told The National.

“But there are lot of people in my congregation who are obviously disappointed this year not to celebrate and I can understand that. But as I say, the rule is a rule and we need to follow it.”

Other priests voiced their concern and disappointment over people spending Christmas alone at home.

“It will not be the same this year. People will miss being together to celebrate Christmas because they have been looking forward to it for the whole year,” said Indian national Father Edward Rathnakar of Peniel Church in the Ruwi area of Muscat,

“Christmas will be quiet and everyone will celebrate at home with their own families but then that is not a bad thing, for the sake of safety,”

Oman on Tuesday reported 15 new cases of the Omicron variant and has introduced emergency travel restrictions for those entering the country, effective immediately.

The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported 42 new cases of Covid-19 and no deaths in the last 24 hours. In Muscat the total number of infections has reached 304, 938 with 4,133 deaths.

Regular churchgoers are disappointed with the new rule preventing them from attending the church on Christmas day.

“Christmas is not Christmas if you cannot attend church. The worst thing is that we cannot even have our usual parties on the eve of Christmas. It will feel like any other normal day when we are forced to stay at home and that is not right at all,” Raymond Marshall, a British teacher in Sohar, told The National.

Other worshippers say they are already in a state of “depression” as they had to cancel Christmas celebrations.

“I feel depressed already. My friends and I have to cancel a party on Christmas Day. We already spent over 250 rials ($650) for the party, from food to gifts so we could have fun together. Now that is all gone,” Mary Castro, a Filipino sales executive in Salalah, told The National.

Oman detected its first Omicron cases last week, with 12 people testing positive for the variant as the sultanate announced a booster vaccination programme for people over the age of 18.

The sultanate has banned entry to passengers from six African countries to stop the spread of Omicron.

Health authorities have also ordered all indoor public places, including malls, shops, schools and hotels, to restrict their business to 50 per cent capacity until further notice. Wedding and funeral gatherings have been banned.

Updated: December 22, 2021, 4:42 PM