Children look at a shop window in a shop on Regent Street, London.
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LONDON – There is one thing that most people will agree on as the holiday season approaches and the coronavirus pandemic continues: Christmas will not be like this this year.
In the past few days, governments across Europe have held meetings to find out how families can get together for Christmas without risking a dreaded third surge in coronavirus cases. It is because mini-lockdowns appear to be limiting a second wave of infections that began after a summer of relaxed restrictions in the area.
From family bubbles to no fireworks, the UK, France, Italy and now Germany have released more details on what will and will not be allowed this Christmas and New Years.
Scientists have warned that easing critically important public health measures over the Christmas period could lead to greater transmission of the virus and potentially more deaths.
In the meantime, policymakers have tried to underscore the morale boosting effect that allows families and friends to meet after a difficult year. There is hope that the holidays can bring some joy after all. Here's what Europeans can expect at Christmas 2020:
The United Kingdom.
The four nations of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) agreed earlier this week that families across the kingdom could come together for Christmas and recognized that separate policies could destroy families spread across Britain.
The UK government released the rules on Tuesday, saying that restrictions on social gatherings will be relaxed between December 23rd and 27th, allowing up to three households to form an "exclusive" Christmas bubble. " Cue many rules about "bubbles" from the government, namely:
You can only be in a Christmas bubbley. You can't change your Christmas bubbley. You can travel between plains and British nations to meet your Christmas bubbley. You can only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes or in your garden, at places of worship or in public outdoor areas. I can't meet anyone in a private apartment who is not part of your household or your Christmas bubble
Pedestrians walk past Christmas lights on Oxford Street in central London on November 17, 2020.
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In addition, you can still only meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside of your home, according to the rules in the stage you are in.
After a month-long lockdown was lifted on December 2nd, England will revert to a tiered system where the severity of social gathering restrictions is determined by the rate of infection in the area. Shops, fitness studios, hairdressers and churches that are not absolutely necessary may be reopened on all levels from December 2nd. Whether pubs, bars and restaurants are allowed to accept customers depends on the tier in which they are.
On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled Christmas restrictions in France, where a second national lockdown will gradually be lifted from Saturday if shops are allowed to reopen.
From December 15, the lockdown will be lifted in France if the health situation permits. This could mean that people in France (who cannot leave their homes under lockdown without a specific reason to buy groceries, for example) can travel across the country and see family and friends.
Cinemas and theaters are allowed to reopen on December 15th, although bars, restaurants and gyms will remain closed until the end of January.
Red Christmas lights decorate the trees to illuminate the Champs-Elysees avenue with the Arc de Triomphe in the background for Christmas celebrations on November 22, 2020 in Paris, France.
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There is a curfew between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. until 7 a.m., but not on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, although large public gatherings are not allowed.
For ski fans, there may not be such a Merry Christmas this year. President Macron said in a televised address on Tuesday that a decision has not yet been made whether ski resorts will be allowed to open this year.
Italy's prime minister also set out, or rather eased, the country's restrictions earlier this week, telling the nation that although the country had ruled out large gatherings for Christmas, it shouldn't have so-called high-risk Covid red zones "at the time of the holidays .
"If the contagion trend continues (down), there will be no more red zones in December," said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday, according to the ANSA news agency. "But we can't allow social occasions during the Christmas season, starting with random holidays in the snow."
Italy, like France and England, has a tiered system of areas or zones in the country designated as high, medium and low risk areas. Red zones are considered to be the highest risk of covid and are currently undergoing a second mini-lock where people are only allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons and most shops and other public facilities are closed.
If the red zones are lifted in time for Christmas, Italians can visit their families elsewhere in Italy. Currently, Calabria, Lombardy, Piedmont and the Aosta Valley are red zones where residents can only leave on December 3rd. As in France, Conte has not made a decision regarding the Italian ski resorts.
Chancellor Angela Merkel met with heads of state on Wednesday to decide which restrictions should be lifted this Christmas, as well as the number of daily cases of coronavirus and deaths from Covid-19 in the country that until recently appeared to be remains worryingly high is less affected by the pandemic than its neighbors.
The 16 German federal states, most of which were allowed to set their own restrictions, joined forces with Merkel and decided to close the so-called "Lockdown Lite" (with shops and schools open, but bars and restaurants closed) by December 20th extend so that the restrictions can be relaxed over Christmas – before they are then tightened again by January.
"This is absolutely not the right time to give the all-clear," said Merkel on Wednesday in a press conference after a meeting with heads of state.
Shoppers are seen as Christmas lights in downtown Cologne, Germany, on November 21, 2020.
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During the pre-Christmas period (from December 1st) the number of people who can meet socially is limited to five, but this number is increased to 10 people in the Christmas and New Year period (December 23rd to January 1st). so that friends and family can meet (children under 14 are exempt from the border).
Germans are asked to avoid contact for seven days before Christmas in order to minimize the risk of infection.
New Year's Eve could be a quieter affair in Germany this year, as the lowering of fireworks in public areas on "busy streets and squares" is prohibited. Ski tourism is also prohibited until at least January 10th.