New Zealanders celebrated Christmas on Saturday in the heat of midsummer with few restrictions, in one of the few countries in the world largely untouched by the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Ninety-five percent of adults in New Zealand have received at least one dose of the vaccine, making them one of the most vaccinated populations in the world. The only cases of omicron that have been found in New Zealand have been safely contained at the border.

As COVID-19 has spread around the world over the past two years, New Zealand has used its isolation to its advantage. Border controls kept the worst of the virus at bay and by Christmas this year New Zealand had recorded 50 deaths out of a population of 5.5 million.

The Delta variant entered New Zealand’s defenses in August and its largest city, Auckland, was stranded for 188 days. At its peak, the epidemic recorded around 220 cases per day. Lately the daily average has been around 50.

But this success comes at a price. There were empty chairs at some tables this holiday season because some New Zealanders living and working overseas were unable to return home due to limitations in the country’s managed isolation and quarantine program.

The traditional dining tables of a Nordic winter – the turkey and all the sides – are common in New Zealand. But the Kiwis also celebrate at the antipodes, with barbecues on the beaches bordered by the native pohutukawa tree, which only blooms at Christmas.

At New Zealand’s Scott base in Antarctica, some New Zealanders enjoyed a white Christmas. During the summer on the frozen continent, the sun never sinks below the horizon and in 24 hours of daylight the temperature hovers around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

About 200 people pass through the base during the summer season – scientists, support personnel and Defense Force personnel who provide communications and other services. Numbers are lower this year due to the pandemic and all staff traveling to the mainland have had to self-isolate and undergo COVID-19 testing before departure.

“Adding a two-week isolation period and multiple COVID-19 tests to the pre-deployment to Antarctica is an important commitment for our population heading south this year,” said Sarah Williams, Director general from Antarctica to New Zealand. “But we want to make sure we’ve done everything possible to keep Antarctica free from COVID-19.”

Most of the Pacific island countries whose health systems could have been overwhelmed by COVID-19 outbreaks have largely succeeded in preventing the virus from entering thanks to strict border controls and a high number of vaccinations.

Fiji is experiencing an ongoing epidemic and has claimed nearly 700 lives. About 92% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated, 97.7% have received at least one dose and many residents of this deeply religious country will celebrate Christmas at traditional church services and family reunions.

Health Secretary James Fong in a Christmas message urged Fijians to “please celebrate wisely”.

In the remote province of Macuata, residents of four villages received a special Christmas present: electricity was connected to their villages for the first time.

Australia celebrated Christmas amid a wave of COVID-19 cases, worse than at any stage of the pandemic, which has forced states to reinstate mask warrants and other preventative measures. The omicron strain is prevalent in some states and is estimated to account for over 70% of all new cases in Queensland.

In his Christmas message, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to COVID-19’s toll on society.

“This pandemic, it continues to rock us,” Morrison said. “The omicron variant is just the latest challenge we faced. But together, always together and only together, we continue to move forward. ”

The summer heat may have discouraged outdoor Christmas parties in some places. The temperature in Perth, Western Australia, was expected to reach 42 degrees Celsius on Saturday, making it the hottest Christmas since the records began more than a century ago.

On Christmas Eve, a student driver in the Northern Territory fled with a truck containing more than $ 10,000 worth of Christmas hams which was empty when it was found.

“This behavior can only be described as Grinch,” said Police Detective Mark Bland.