Global virus rules for Christmas: Tough, mild or none at all
In Peru, you can’t drive your car on Christmas. In Lebanon, you can go to a nightclub, but you can’t dance. In South Africa, roadblocks instead of beach parties will mark this year’s festive season.
How many people can you share a Christmas meal with? France recommends no more than six, in Chile it’s 15, and in Brazil it’s as many as you want. Meanwhile, Italy’s mind-boggling, color-coded holiday virus rules change almost every day for the next two weeks.
Countries around the world are trying to find the right formulas to keep their people safe for Christmas, especially as new virus variants prompt renewed travel bans and fuel resurgent infections, hospitalizations and deaths at the end of an already devastating year.
Here’s a look at some of the restrictions around the world for the holiday season:
It was meant to be a time when families across the U.K. could enjoy something like a normal Christmas despite the pandemic. Authorities planned to relax restrictions, allowing up to three households to mix in the days around Dec. 25.
The emergence of a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus changed that.
The four nations of the U.K. – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are all in various states of shutdown and have ditched their Christmas plans. No indoor mixing of households is allowed in London and southeast England.
Instead of Christmas joy, a sense of dread and isolation is looming. Dozens of countries have limited flights from Britain, and daily new infections are running at record highs. Hospitals across the U.K., which has Europe’s second-highest virus-related death toll at over 68,000, are heading towards capacity at a time of year when other illnesses abound.
In Brazil, Christmas 2020 will look much like normal – even though the country has been among the world’s hardest-hit by the pandemic and new COVID-19 infections are now on track to match the peak of the first surge.
Many beaches and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro were packed last weekend, despite a city measure forbidding drivers to park along the shore.
No national restrictions have been imposed ahead of Christmas, though the governor of São Paulo ordered that only essential services such as public transport, supermarkets and pharmacies remain open around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador have also called off their Dec. 31 firework displays.
South Africa is targeting beaches and booze as it imposes new restrictions for the Christmas season amid resurgent infections.
Alcohol can only be sold Monday through Thursday, and a nighttime curfew is in place. Beaches – major tourist attractions this time of year – will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The government is urging people to avoid crowded Christmas celebrations, but indoor gatherings of up to 100 people are still allowed; outdoors up to 250 people can congregate.
Police are setting up roadblocks to slow a second surge of infections that authorities and scientists say is being fueled by another variant of the virus, one distinct from the variant affecting England. Some countries are banning flights from South Africa, where the weekly infections and deaths have doubled over the past two weeks.
Unlike much of the world, Lebanon eased restrictions during the holidays, hoping to inject foreign currency into a tanking economy. Tens of thousands of Lebanese expats have arrived home for the holidays, leading to fears of an inevitable surge in infections.
Last week, the Interior Ministry allowed nightclubs to reopen – but said dancing will be prohibited. That triggered a debate on social media about what constitutes dancing.
Lebanon’s health sector has been challenged by the pandemic that struck amid an unprecedented financial crisis. The massive Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port only increased pressure on the city’s hospitals, knocking out at least three of them.
Newspapers in Italy are running color-coded graphics that resemble children’s board games to help people keep track of the rules aimed at limiting new infections over the holidays. Travel between regions is banned for 16 days, and a curfew begins at 10 p.m.
From Dec. 24-27, “red” rules kick in, closing all shops except food stores, pharmacies and hairdressers – since looking one’s best is essential in Italy. Two people can visit the home of another family member and bring children younger than 14 with them. Restaurants and cafes can’t serve customers, although takeout and home delivery are allowed.
From Dec. 28-30, Italians segue into ’’orange” rules, when non-essential shops can re-open, although dining out is still banned. Things turn red again for Dec. 31-Jan. 3, orange for Jan. 4, then red again on Jan. 5-6 for the national holiday on Epiphany.
South Korea is clamping down on private social gatherings of five or more people and closing tourist spots from Christmas Eve through at least Jan. 3.
National parks and coastal tourist sites, where thousands travel to watch the sun rise on the new year, will close. So will churches and skiing, sledding and skating venues. Restaurants could face fines of up to 3 million won ($2,700) if they serve groups of five or more.
The greater Seoul area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, has been at the center of a viral resurgence in past weeks that has overwhelmed hospitals, increased death tolls and raised questions as to how the government is handling the outbreak, after winning global praise for its response earlier in the year.
Forty-eight COVID-19 patients have died in the deadliest two days since the pandemic began.
The United States
The U.S. has issued no nationwide restrictions on travel, a decision left to state governments, but a federal agency is advising against criss-crossing the country for the Christmas season.
Still, millions of people have passed through airport security in recent days. The travel company AAA predicted that nearly 85 million Americans would be journeying during the holidays – a 29% decline from last year.
The U.S. has reported by far the most virus infections and deaths in the world, over 18 million cases and 322,800 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Even before Christmas, new cases have been rising over the past two weeks.
Angela Charlton in Paris, Pan Pylas in London, Diane Jeantet in Rio de Janeiro, Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Zeina Karam in Lebanon, Tong-Hyung Kim in Seoul, Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan contributed.