The World Health Organisation (WHO) has pleaded with Europeans to have a quiet Christmas or risk a renewed surge in coronavirus cases in early 2021.
“Despite some fragile progress, Covid-19 transmission across the European region remains widespread and intense,” the health body said.
“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 specifically warned about the risks of transmission at busy ski resorts, and recommended countries remove the possibility of crowding at seasonal events and on public transport.
Authorities should also consider delaying or even cancelling mass winter gatherings, whether sporting, recreational or religious.
All gatherings, even small ones, should continue to be held outside where possible, with everyone wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing, WHO said.
If held indoors, good ventilation and limiting group size will reduce exposure risk. It added people should avoid any form of transportation that might be crowded.
The new guidance comes weeks after WHO envoy David Nabarro warned infections in Europe could surge again if countries repeated the failures that led to the second wave.
“They missed building up the necessary infrastructure during the summer months after they brought the first wave under the control,” Mr Nabarro said in November.
“Now we have the second wave. If they don’t build the necessary infrastructure, we’ll have a third wave early next year.”
Germany hit a new record level of deaths this week as it went into a harder lockdown that is expected to last until January, while in Italy there were calls for a drastic tightening in restrictions to avoid a “national tragedy”.
Christmas guidelines for a relaxing of rules over a five-day period are to go ahead in the UK, but with “stronger advice” expected.
It comes as the editors of the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal warned that Downing Street’s plan to allow three households to mix over a five-day period from 23 December was a “major error that will cost many lives” and should be stopped.