Harnaaz Sandhu of India named 70th Miss Universe

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India's Harnaaz Sandhu poses during the final round of the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)© Provided by Associated Press India’s Harnaaz Sandhu poses during the final round of the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)The previously reigning Miss Universe, Andrea Meza of Mexico, crowned her successor in the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat. The pageant was held in the middle of the night, wrapping up at 5 a.m. local time (10 p.m. EST) to accommodate the primetime schedule in the U.S.

The pageant included traditional displays of national costumes, evening gowns and swimwear, as well as a series of interview questions to test contestants’ public speaking skills.

South Africa's Lalela Mswane, from left, India's Harnaaz Sandhu and Paraguay's Nadia Ferreira advance to the top 3 during the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)© Provided by Associated Press South Africa’s Lalela Mswane, from left, India’s Harnaaz Sandhu and Paraguay’s Nadia Ferreira advance to the top 3 during the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)But it also drew attention in recent weeks for other reasons.

A grassroots Palestinian-led boycott had urged contestants to skip the event to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

The Philippines' Beatrice Luigi Gomez, from left, Columbia's Valeria Ayos, Paraguay's Nadia Ferreira, South Africa's Lalela Mswane, and India's Harnaaz Sandhu pose as the top 5 contestants during the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)© Provided by Associated Press The Philippines’ Beatrice Luigi Gomez, from left, Columbia’s Valeria Ayos, Paraguay’s Nadia Ferreira, South Africa’s Lalela Mswane, and India’s Harnaaz Sandhu pose as the top 5 contestants during the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)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 support for the country’s representative over her participation.

In an interview last month, Meza urged contestants to leave politics out of the pageant, saying the gathering was meant to bring together women from different backgrounds. “When you are in there you forget about politics, about your religion,” she told The Associated Press at the time.

Host Steve Harvey, left, speaks with Nigeria's Maristella Okpala during the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)© Provided by Associated Press Host Steve Harvey, left, speaks with Nigeria’s Maristella Okpala during the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)Sara Salansky, an official with the Israeli Tourism Ministry, said the country was selected to host the contest earlier this year because of Israel’s successful coronavirus vaccination program.

The contest also suffered a last-minute hiccup 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 came into effect. But those who came afterward were given special permission to enter, albeit with a mandatory 72-hour quarantine period.

France's Clemence Botino participates in the evening gown stage of the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)© Provided by Associated Press France’s Clemence Botino participates in the evening gown stage of the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)Throughout the run-up to Sunday’s contest, all contestants were tested for the coronavirus every 48 hours and required to obey strict mask requirements.

Amid all the safeguards, France’s contestant, Clemence Botino, tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after arriving in Israel. After 10 days in quarantine, she was declared virus free last week and allowed to rejoin the competition.

Last year’s pageant was delayed due to the pandemic before Meza was crowned in May for her abbreviated tenure.

Columbia's Valeria Ayos participates in the evening gown stage of the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)© Provided by Associated Press Columbia’s Valeria Ayos participates in the evening gown stage of the 70th Miss Universe pageant, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)Sunday’s contest was hosted by U.S. TV personality Steve Harvey. Organizers said the pageant was expected to reach an estimated 600 million viewers via the FOX network in 172 countries.

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