WHO issues advice on how to ‘celebrate’ a Safe Christmas

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CDE / WHO/ BBC / Reuters – The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Europeans to wear masks during family gatherings at Christmas. WHO advised that while marking the Christmas holidays this year may look different, we can still make the most of it. We wish everyone a joyful and peaceful winter holiday season. Play it safe and stay healthy.

It said Europe was at “high risk” of a new wave of coronavirus infections in the early part of 2021, as transmission of the virus remained high. Countries across the continent have been registering thousands of daily cases and hundreds of deaths.

In a statement, WHO said that despite some fragile progress, COVID-19 transmission across the European Region remains widespread and intense.

There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it.

WHO stated that regardless of location, religious services should take place differently this year. They should be held outdoors whenever possible or be limited in size and duration, with physical distancing, ventilation, hand hygiene and mask use, as appropriate.

Indoor gatherings, even smaller ones, can be especially risky because they bring together groups of people, young and old, from different households, who may not all be adhering to the same infection prevention measures.

Gatherings should be held outside if possible, and participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing. If held indoors, limiting group size and ensuring good ventilation to reduce exposure risk are key.

It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy.

Vulnerable people and older friends or relatives may find it very difficult to ask loved ones to stay away physically, regardless of the anxieties or concerns they may have. Consider what others may be feeling and the difficult decisions they will be facing.

Governments across Europe are trying to navigate between avoiding spreading the coronavirus over the Christmas holiday season and allowing people to celebrate with family and friends.

Here are measures that will be adopted for year-end festivities by some European countries:

BRITAIN

On Dec. 16, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not outlaw Christmas gatherings, resisting pressure from some doctors to ban festive family get-togethers. Under current rules up to three households will be allowed to meet at home between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27. People will be able to gather in places of worship and outdoors but not at indoor hospitality or entertainment venues. Shops will stay open for longer over Christmas and in January, but pubs and restaurants were forced to shut in London to tackle a worsening outbreak.

ITALY

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Dec. 15 the government may have to tighten restrictions over Christmas, that currently include curbs on movement between regions starting on Dec. 20.

Pope Francis’s Christmas Eve Mass will start two hours earlier, allowing the limited number of people who can attend to be home by 10 p.m.

BULGARIA

Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said on Dec. 16 the government planned to extend its coronavirus restrictions until Jan. 31, including closure of schools, restaurants and shopping malls, pushing back against calls from restaurant and hotel operators to ease the curbs ahead of Christmas and New Year.

POLAND

A senior government official appealed to Poles to stay at home over Christmas and New Year and said coronavirus restrictions, with schools, restaurants and sports centres shut, could not be eased yet.

THE NETHERLANDS

The nation has gone into a hard five-week lockdown. Gatherings are limited to two people with a temporary relief raising the limit to three adult visitors over three days around Christmas.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Restaurants, hotels and indoor sports venues, which reopened only two weeks ago, will shut again from Dec. 18, and an 11 p.m. curfew will be in place.

GERMANY

Germany will only keep essential shops open, from Dec. 16 until at least Jan. 10. Private gatherings will remain limited to no more than five people from two households, with rules to be eased over the Christmas holidays when up to 10 people will be allowed to gather, not counting children.

DENMARK

Restaurants, museums, cinemas and other cultural institutions will be closed in 69 of 98 municipalities, including Copenhagen, until Jan. 3, affecting almost 80% of the population.

GREECE

Hair salons and bookstores will reopen during Christmas, while other restrictions will remain in place until Jan. 7.

Churches will open for the Christmas and Epiphany masses on Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, with a limited number of worshippers.

FRANCE

France will lift its stay-at-home order on Dec. 15 and replace it with a nightly curfew, which will be waived for Christmas Eve.

HUNGARY

The country cancelled New Year’s Eve celebrations and restrictions, including a 7 p.m. curfew, will last until at least Jan. 11.

PORTUGAL

There will be no limit on how many people can gather per household for Christmas. The curfew will be pushed back from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. For New Year’s Eve, street parties will be banned and outdoor gatherings limited to a maximum of six people.

SPAIN

Up to 10 people per household – up from six now – will be allowed to gather for Christmas and New Year.

Curfews will be pushed back to 1:30 a.m. from 11 p.m. on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. Movement between regions will be banned between Dec. 23 and Jan. 6, except for visits to family.

NORWAY

Norwegians will be able to invite up to 10 guests into their homes on two separate occasions between Christmas and New Year. Outside those days, the current limit of up to five guests will apply.

AUSTRIA

Skiing will be allowed from Dec. 24, but there will be no Christmas markets this holiday season.

BELGIUM

Belgian households will only be able to be in close contact with one extra person over Christmas. People living on their own will be able to meet two others. Fireworks will be banned on New Year’s Eve and foreign travel is strongly discouraged.

IRELAND

Three households will be allowed to meet between Dec. 18 and Jan. 6, and the countrywide travel ban will be lifted for that period.

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