Perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky. In the UK, our leaders have decreed that Christmas will not be cancelled this year, but merely sanitised to within an inch of its life. We can shop (in a mask), go to the pub (unless we’re in Tier 3), and from December 23 until December 27 we each have permission to form a festive “bubble” composed of people from no more than three households (which means, if we want to obey the rules, my dad has to turn away two of his four children, while my wife – were she to join us – would then be unable to see her family).
During this five-day dose of yuletide fun, the jolly folk at Sage recommend seating poor granny next to an open window (“How about a touch of frostbite with your Christmas pud, nan?”), treating family homes like a restaurant by wearing a mask when you enter (because science tells us Covid only attacks in doorways and corridors), and not staying overnight (are they really suggesting I drive back to London after a skinful of port, or – even worse – spend Christmas Day sober?!).
Brace yourselves for a deluge of social media virtue-signalling, featuring games of charades in the garden (for those lucky enough to own one) and wrapping paper soaked in formaldehyde.
Nevertheless, as I said, we should consider ourselves lucky. Because other countries are not even permitting this much festive freedom. They are beating their subjects into submission with all the relish of Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Our Teutonic friends will enter a nationwide lockdown on Wednesday, with restrictions on private gatherings (maximum of five people from two households) and the closure of non-essential shops and schools (bars and restaurants have already been shut) until at least January 10. Pharmacies, supermarkets, post offices, banks and petrol stations can remain open, which doesn’t bode well for last-minute Christmas shoppers (“Ah, a can of de-icer! Thanks uncle Fritz!”)
The move follows one month of so-called “lockdown light”, which didn’t seem to do the trick. The answer is more lockdown, apparently.
As in the UK, there will be a noël window of leniency. From December 24 until December 26 (so only three days instead of our generous five – take that, Germany!) the two-household restriction will be lifted, but meetings are limited to “the closest family circles”. However, there will be strict rules on gatherings for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, along with a federal ban on the sale of fireworks (because, science). German states are free to put in place stricter measures – and they are, with Bavaria already announcing a 9pm to 5am curfew. Tis the season to be jolly.
Colmar, decorated and illuminated at Christmas, Alsace. Photo: iStock
The French have been enduring a second national lockdown since October 30, with residents even required to obtain official permission (the dreaded ‘attestation’) every time they want to leave their home. This will be ditched on December 15, and travel between regions will again be allowed, but the rules for the Christmas period remain harsh. Bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least January 20, cinemas and theatres will be shut until at least January 7 (so no panto or circuses, a French festive favourite), and an 8pm-6am curfew will be in operation. The curfew will be lifted on Christmas Eve – presumably so people actually have time to reach their relatives – but not on New Year’s Eve.
Prime Minister Jean Castex urged families to keep Yuletide gatherings small (a maximum of six adults is recommended), adding: “We need to keep our guard up, stay vigilant… and let everyone benefit from the holidays, but without risking provoking an epidemic resurgence.” He really knows how to get the party started, does our Jean.
Nothing says Christmas like a blanket quarantine on all overseas arrivals, the new policy announced by Greece last week. It said that from December 18 until January 7, all travellers – visiting Brits, returning Greeks, the Three Wise Men – would need to self-isolate for 10 days, and present evidence of a recent negative test. The move enraged thousands of Greeks living abroad who had planned to return to their homeland for the festive season – and the quarantine period was subsequently cut to three days.
The country, which has seen a relatively low 3,625 Covid deaths, entered a second nationwide lockdown on November 7, and most of the measures introduced will remain in place for the holiday season. Most non-essential shops, restaurants and bars will stay closed (bookshops and hairdressers can reopen, so expect auntie Maria to come to Christmas bearing novels and a stylish new ‘do). Its curfew will be extended by a whole hour, to 10pm-5am. Ski resorts have been ordered to remain closed until at least January 7.
Remember when Belgium was the country Matt Hancock and his chums thought Britain should try to emulate when it comes to coping with coronavirus? Things didn’t go too well after that, and Belgium entered a second nationwide lockdown in November after becoming one of Europe’s Covid epicentres.
The lockdown has been eased ever so slightly, but the remaining rules are hardly conducive to festive cheer. “Our situation is much worse than that in Germany and worse than the British situation,” said Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke last month, when he warned that Christmas would not be normal this year. He wasn’t lying. Belgian households can host just one adult friend – known as a “cuddle contact” – or two if they live alone, and the interior minister Annelies Verlinden has warned that police could enter houses on Christmas Eve “if necessary, in case of noise pollution, for example.”
Bars and restaurants will stay shut, so no strong Belgian beer to lift sunken spirits. Non-essential shops have opened again, but people must go shopping alone and cannot stay in one store for more than half an hour (Covid carries a stopwatch, didn’t you know). A 10pm curfew will be pushed back to midnight on Christmas Eve, in a rare act of generosity, but New Year’s Eve fireworks (and, presumably, fun) have been banned.
Pity poor Paolo who left his native Calabria to find his fortune in the north. He’ll be spending Christmas alone this year because travel between regions is banned in Italy from December 21 to January 6. Furthermore, people will not even be allowed to leave their hometowns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Day.
In addition to these Grinch-like edicts, a curfew from 10pm-5am will be in place (so no midnight mass), restaurants and bars will remain closed in most regions (in other areas they can stay open until 6pm), Christmas markets are banned, and ski resorts must stay shut until at least January 7. The rules, imposed by Rome without any discussion with regional authorities, have been described as “crazy” by Attilio Fontana, governor of the northern Lombardy region.
Vrijthof Square in Maastricht at Christmas. Photo: iStock
The Dutch will undergo a gruelling five-week lockdown to cover the Christmas period. Prime Minister Mark Rutte is likely to order shops and schools to close until January 19, according to reports, which would make the restrictions even tougher than Lockdown 1.0, between March and May.
Public buildings, such as museums, cinemas and zoos, will also be closed, broadcaster NOS said, along with day-care centres and barber shops.
The Telegraph, London