Europe is bracing for possibly its worst post-war Christmas as gloom envelopes a continent coping with the very real possibility of a no-deal Brexit, sharp increases in coronavirus cases and the prospect of significant curbs on movement and activity in the days ahead.
Fearing lockdowns to coincide with Christmas, Italian shoppers came out in droves in several cities on Sunday, forcing authorities to block off roads and tourist attractions.
Restrictions had been eased last month but already experts are warning of another surge in cases in the weeks ahead, even as Italy over the weekend overtook the United Kingdom as the country with the largest death toll in western Europe. Italy has already announced a ban on travel between regions and said people will not be permitted to leave their towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Germany has announced imposition of strict measures from this week until 10 January.
Beginning Wednesday, schools, non-food stores and hairdressers will be shut, while restaurants will be restricted to takeaways. While an exception has been made for Christmas day, not more than five people can meet indoors at a time as part of measures that the government of Mrs Angela Merkel has deemed necessary because of a spike in new cases.
Other European countries too have placed restrictions on human contact, even as they have advised people to stay indoors and avoid fraternising. The United Kingdom, for instance, has asked its citizens to think “really carefully” about increasing social contacts over Christmas.
In the Netherlands, people have been asked to avoid city centres, while in Switzerland hospitals have written to the health authorities to express “great concern” at the prevailing situation which has seen hospital ICUs reaching nearfull capacity in several cities.
In Spain, social gatherings have been restricted to six while Austrians, already under lockdown since 7 December, will hope there is some easing up as the festival approaches. France has already been under lockdown since late October, to be replaced on December 15 by a night curfew between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., which will be eased only on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Through the past months, governments in Europe have had to battle both the virus and increasing numbers of people who see restrictions as an imposition on their rights.
Indeed, large numbers have even resisted wearing masks, notwithstanding evidence to suggest this can help control spread of the virus. But this evidence has largely been ignored by protestors across the political divide who have gathered in public squares to mark their resentment at the restrictions placed on them.
While many experts have echoed the words of Austria’s Health Minister who said, “the next two weeks are crucial”, Europe must brace for a Christmas where people might choose to break shackles to embrace festive cheer in a year marked by gloom.