EILAT, Israel – Harnaaz Sandhu of India was crowned the 70th Miss Universe on Sunday, beating some 80 contestants in a contest that was touched by politics and the pandemic.
Formerly reigning Miss Universe, Andrea Meza of Mexico, crowned her successor, a Bollywood actress, in the Israeli resort town of Eilat on the Red Sea. The pageant took place in the middle of the night, ending at 5 am local time (10 pm EST) to accommodate prime time in the US.
Sandhu said she was “overwhelmed because it has been 21 years since India got the Miss Universe crown and it is happening well now. ”
The parade included displays of traditional national costumes, sw imwear, and a series of interview questions to test the contestants' public speaking skills. The top 10 wore intricately dazzled maxi dresses in gold, silver or bronze. Beatrice Luigi Gomez from the Philippines wore an asymmetrical dress with one sleeve, highlighting a new tattoo that she said "celebrates her womanhood."
But the contest has also attracted attention in recent weeks by others
A Palestinian-led grassroots boycott had prompted contestants to skip the event to protest Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
In the end, only Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country with close ties to the Palestinians, did not send a representative, citing the global COVID-19 situation. The South African government, which also strongly supports the Palestinian cause, withdrew its support for the country's representative for her participation.
In an interview last month, Meza urged contestants to leave politics out of the contest, saying the meeting was meant to bring together women of different backgrounds. you forget politics, your religion, "he told The Associated Press at the time.
Sara Salansky, an official with Israel's Ministry of Tourism, said the country was selected to host the contest earlier this year due to Israel's successful coronavirus vaccination program.
The contest suffered a last-minute setback with the arrival of the omicron variant, which forced Israel to close its borders to foreign tourists late last month.
Most of the Miss Universe contestants were already in the country before the new regulations went into effect. But those who came later received special permission to enter, albeit with a mandatory quarantine period of 72 hours.
During the run-up to Sunday's contest, all contestants were screened for coronavirus every 48 hours and required to obey strict mask requirements.
Amid all the safeguards, French contestant Clemence Bottino tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after arriving in Israel. After 10 days in quarantine, it was declared virus-free last week and allowed to rejoin the competition.
Last year's contest was delayed due to the pandemic before Meza was crowned in May by its abbreviation
Sunday's contest was hosted by American television personality Steve Harvey. Organizers said the event was expected to reach 600 million viewers through the FOX network in 172 countries