In Depth

Coronavirus: what is Europe doing about Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas?

Boris Johnson facing growing opposition to plans to relax UK coronavirus rules during the festive season

As the UK looks forward to a brief respite from coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, officials in No. 10 are becoming increasingly concerned about what the new year will bring.

Boris Johnson “has been absolutely determined to allow families some brief semblance of normality”, says Politico’s London Playbook. But with cases spiralling in the capital, “that position is going to come under intense scrutiny in the coming days”. 

Under the government’s plans, bubbles of three households will be allowed to spend time together under the same roof between 23 and 27 December. But the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies is called on Downing Street to rethink the policy - or face the “very real danger of a third wave of the pandemic”

With leaders in other European countries facing similar dilemmas, here’s how the Continent is dealing with Christmas Covid restrictions:

France

France has recorded 2,336,136 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 57,542 related deaths, according to latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). The country’s second lockdown ends today and is being replaced with a daily 8pm to 6am curfew.

People across France will be able to go out freely during the day, with no limitations on how far they can travel from home. They will also be allowed to “meet with friends and family again, outside or inside”, The Connexion reports, but cinemas, restaurants, museums and cafes will remain closed until January.

During the curfew, travel outside is only allowed for essential reasons, such as medical emergencies, getting to and from work, taking pets for walks, or catching planes or trains. There will be no curfew on Christmas Eve, but no more than six adults may get together and people in these bubbles are advised to limit their interactions with others in the five days leading up to 25 December.

There will be no exception to the curfew for New Year’s Eve, with everyone told to stay indoors to celebrate.

Germany

Germany has reported 1,337,078 Covid cases and 21,975 deaths, and is about to implement tough new lockdown measures.

Between 16 December and 10 January, non-essential shops and schools will be closed, and only a slight relaxation of other Covid rules is planned for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

From 24 to 26 December, one household will be able to spend time with a maximum of four close family members from other households. Restaurants, bars and leisure centres will remain closed, however.

Germany has been in what has been dubbed a “lockdown lite” since 4 November, with stores and schools remaining open. But at a meeting of the 16 federal states last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of “an urgent need to take action” amid rising infection rates.

Italy

Italy has had a total of 1,843,712 confirmed Covid cases and 64,520 related fatalities - the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe.

“Many Italian regions are under partial lockdown and a ban on travel between different regions from 21 December to 6 January has been announced,” the BBC reports. “People will not be allowed to leave their home towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day”, with exceptions in place for travelling for work, medical reasons or emergencies only.

Churches will remain open, though Covid restrictions mean that midnight masses may not take place. A curfew from 10pm to 5am will also remain in place throughout the holidays.

Spain

Spain has reported 1,730,575 cases and 47,624 deaths, and is planning to allow limited travel and gatherings over the festive season. 

Between 23 December and 6 January, travel across the country’s regional borders “will only be allowed if visiting family members and close friends”, El Pais reports. “But each regional government may restrict this rule even further and allow travel only on specific days.”

Meanwhile, groups of up to ten people, including children, will be allowed to celebrate Christmas and the New Year together. 

Christmas in Spain is traditionally marked by large parades, but this year “regional governments will not allow events that draw large crowds unless safety measures can be guaranteed”, the newspaper continues.

“Instead of moving parades, authorities are asking for events to be held at a single location where attendance numbers can be more easily kept under control.”

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