The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned people to stay home during the holiday season, saying going out was “not worth the risk” of catching Covid-19.
“The safest thing to do right now is to remain at home,” the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said in a statement on Thursday.
“There remains a difference between what you are being permitted to do by your authorities and what you should do,” he said.
More than two-thirds of England’s population will go under Tier 3 restrictions from Saturday. The rules are expected to be temporarily relaxed by the government over Christmas, allowing up to three households to mix between 23 and 27 December.
Several European countries have introduced new restrictions in a bid to slow down the soar of infections during the holiday season.
France has introduced a night-time curfew, while Italian media reported that the country was expected to announce on Friday a nationwide lockdown starting before Christmas and ending in the early days of January 2021.
“We have a few more months of sacrifice ahead and can behave now in a way that collectively we are proud of,” Dr Kluge said. “When we look back at these unprecedented times, I hope we all felt we acted with a spirit of shared humanity to protect those in need, he said.?
Dr Kluge warned that the pandemic had already brought “devastation” and a mental health crisis to communities across the continent.
“Covid-19 has forced families and communities apart, bankrupted businesses, and deprived people of opportunities that a year ago were taken for granted,” he said.
“From anxieties around virus transmission, the psychological impact of lockdowns and self-isolation, to the effects of unemployment, financial worries and social exclusion – the mental health impact of the pandemic will be long term and far-reaching.
“What has resulted is a growing mental health crisis in Europe.”
The statement came as Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, warned that relaxing restrictions over Christmas could lead to an “unrelenting tsunami” of cases.
“After a difficult year, it is everybody’s instinct to want to be together and see loved ones – especially those who live far apart or feel isolated. But what is at stake is coming into sharp focus,” she said.
But she warned that travelling and family visits would “undoubtedly” make infections rise further, piling pressure on NHS and care services and causing more deaths. “We would begin 2021 in the worst possible way,” she said.
She said nurses would not enjoy Christmas “knowing what awaits them in January” and asked the Government to be “clearer about the risks, not just the rules”.
“This virus isn't taking Christmas off and nor should we,” she said.
Additional reporting by PA