WHO advises to wear masks, celebrate Christmas outdoors to avoid Covid spike

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The United Nations' health body has warned of a "further resurgence" of Covid-19 in early 2021, with the World Health Organization's Europe office urging families to wear face masks or celebrate outdoors during this year's Christmas gatherings.

The UN health organisation said in a statement that while some "fragile progress" had been made, "Covid-19 transmission across the European region remains widespread and intense."

New resurgence

"There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it," WHO Europe said.

It urged the public "not (to) underestimate the importance of your decisions" and take extra precautions as many prepare to gather for the holidays.

If possible, the WHO said celebrations should be held outdoors and "participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing."

For indoor festivities, the WHO said limiting the number of guests and ensuring good ventilation were key to reducing the risk of infection.

"It may feel awkward to wear masks and practice physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy," the health agency said.

Tightened restrictions

Several European countries tightened restrictions and Germany registered a record death toll on the first day of its new lockdown Wednesday and the United States set a new daily record of Covid-19 infections.

The tougher measures came as EU members agreed to start coronavirus vaccinations on the same day.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told European deputies: "To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70 percent of the population vaccinated.

"This is a huge task, a big task. So let's start as soon as possible with the vaccination together, as 27, with a start at the same day."

Pressure has been mounting on the bloc to catch up with Britain and the United States who have both started their programmes, using a vaccine made in the EU jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Several European countries on Wednesday imposed tighter coronavirus restrictions ahead of Christmas.

Swathes of England came under stricter curbs, and Denmark extended its restrictions.

France and Turkey have also announced restrictions over the holiday season, and on Tuesday, the Netherlands shut down schools and non-essential shops for five weeks.

Germany also closed non-essential shops and schools on Wednesday, as its Robert Koch Institute announced that a record 952 people had died of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours.

New measures from US

Meanwhile The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued an upbeat briefing about Moderna, ahead of a meeting of experts on whether to grant it emergency approval.

The United States has already started using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and on Tuesday the FDA also approved the country's first rapid at-home coronavirus test for Covid-19. Available over-the-counter, it produces a result in around 20 minutes.

The need is urgent, as the United States remains the hardest-hit nation, setting a record for new daily infections on Tuesday with more than 248,000 cases.

The Washington National Cathedral rang its bells 300 times Tuesday in memory of the 300,000 people who have lost their lives to coronavirus in the United States. The current toll stands at 303,797.

In California, officials ordered 5,000 extra body bags as Los Angeles was left with fewer than 100 available intensive care beds for a county of 10 million people.

"I don't want... to scare folks" said Governor Gavin Newsom. "But this is a deadly disease, and we need to be mindful of where we are."

President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will be vaccinated in public.