Being with family and friends at Christmas “is not worth putting them or yourself at risk,” the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, urged people to think about whether travelling during the festive period is necessary.
Experts also warned that there could be issues in relation to ski resorts.
Dr Tedros said: “We all need to consider whose life we might be gambling with in the decisions we make.
“Covid-19 pandemic will change the way we celebrate but it doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate. We still can celebrate.”
He warned that “this is no time for complacency,” despite coming after last week seeing the first decline in newly-reported cases globally since September.
Dr Tedros said this was due to a decrease in Europe thanks to “difficult but necessary” lockdown measures in recent weeks.
Urging “extreme caution”, he noted that “gains can easily be lost and there was still an increase in cases in most other regions of the world and an increase in deaths”.
Dr Tedros said people could try to stay safe by celebrating within their households and avoid gatherings with many different households and families coming together.
A checklist of safety measures for the festive season may include outdoor meetings with people from a different household, maintaining physical distance, wearing a mask, avoiding crowded shopping centres, shopping at less crowded times or shopping online, he suggested.
Dr Tedros reminded people to social distance, wear a mask and carry hand sanitisers when are in airports and train stations or on planes and buses.
He said: “If we can’t celebrate as normal this year make a plan to celebrate with your family and friends once it is safe to do so. We know it will be safe. It is a matter of time.”
Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, warned that ski lovers would probably not be infected by barrelling down the slopes but during the pinchpoints which lead to large numbers of people.
The “real issues” are at airports and on buses taking people to and from ski resorts, ski lifts and “not to mention the apres ski, which so many people seem to enjoy,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the nation’s resorts to stay shut until the new year.
A call by the German chancellor Angela Merkel for an EU-wide agreement to keep all European ski resorts closed until early January looks set to go unheeded by Switzerland, and possibly Austria.
Dr Ryan said: “The issue is any activity that involves large numbers of people moving into a concentrated space and then using public and other transport to get there and back needs to be managed carefully and very much with a risk-management approach.
“We would advise that all countries look at their ski season and all other reasons for mass gathering – be they sports, recreation or religious – and look very carefully at the end-to-end risks associated with that .
“We are in a deep moment of transmission. We have seen progress and want to maintain that.”