France is to announce an only limited easing of its strict nationwide lockdown and Germany and Spain have announced restrictions on Christmas and new year gatherings as European governments act to prevent Covid cases multiplying over the holiday period.
Germany’s 16 federal states are likely to approve gatherings of a maximum of 10 people during the festive season, according to a draft proposal due to be discussed on Wednesday by state premiers and the country’s chancellor, Angela Merkel.
The mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, said he was confident the measures would be adopted, while two state premiers said there was further broad agreement to extend a national “lockdown light” until 20 December to make family gatherings possible.
Germany closed bars, restaurants and entertainment venues for a month on 2 November, with schools and shops remaining open and private gatherings restricted to 10 people from two households.
Under the new plan, gatherings would be limited to five until the Christmas break. Big public New Year’s Eve firework displays look likely to be banned, but otherwise family celebrations should be possible “albeit on a smaller scale”, the draft said.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron was set to announce a three-stage easing of the country’s month-long lockdown, beginning possibly this weekend with the reopening of “non-essential” businesses such as hairdressers and clothes shops, which will have to observe a strict new distancing rule of 8 sq metres per customer.
Churches and some cultural venues may be allowed to reopen from 1 December with a maximum of 30 visitors, French media reported, while a second stage starting on 18 December should allow limited holiday travel. Bars and restaurants, however, are unlikely to be able to reopen until mid-January.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday evening, Macron is also likely to say people may exercise within a 5km or 10km radius of their homes rather than the current 1km limit, and lay down precise rules for festive gatherings, local media reported, under the slogan “celebrate, yes – but party, no”.
The Spanish government is planning to limit festive gatherings to six people and to set a 1am to 6am curfew for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, according to a leaked document seen by Spanish newspapers.
“With respect to family gatherings, we recommend they be limited to members of the same household. Should there be an external guest who does not usually live with the family, gatherings should include a maximum of six people and preventative measures must be followed,” the draft says.
Spain, under a state of emergency since late October, is hoping to have what the government called a “very substantial part” of the population vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of March 2021. It emerged on Monday that King Felipe is self-isolating for 10 days after coming into contact with someone who tested positive.
The Finnish capital, Helsinki, meanwhile, is introducing tough new restrictions after a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus cases, with high schools, libraries and swimming pools to be closed and public events banned outright.
“We propose to use the full range of measures within the city’s powers,” said Helsinki’s mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, warning that healthcare and contact-tracing services were at risk of being overwhelmed and too many people were ignoring recommendations.
The Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, warned on Monday that a new state of emergency could be declared if regional measures proved ineffective. Nationwide, Finland’s infection rate remains the lowest in the EU, with 69 new cases per 100,000 people over the last fortnight, but in the Helsinki area it has risen to 159.
In Sweden, whose light-touch anti-lockdown approach has attracted international attention, the country’s health watchdog criticised “serious shortcomings” in nursing homes, which account for nearly half of Sweden’s 6,400 Covid-19 deaths.
The prime minister, Stefan Lofven, admitted in May that the country had failed to protect its elderly, and the watchdog said none of Sweden’s 21 regions had taken sufficient responsibility for the treatment of infected care home residents, with a fifth of patients having received no individual assessment by doctors.
Russia’s deputy prime minister, Tatiana Golikova, said on Tuesday the country’s coronavirus situation was becoming “more complicated” with the onset of autumn and winter. Russia recorded a record 25,173 new daily infections on Monday.