Countries around the world are trying to find the right formula to keep their people safe for Christmas, especially as new coronavirus variants prompt renewed travel bans and fuel resurgent infections, hospital admissions and deaths at the end of an already devastating year.
In Peru, you cannot drive your car on Christmas; in Lebanon, you can go to a nightclub, but you cannot dance; in South Africa, roadblocks instead of beach parties will mark this year’s festive season.
How many people can you share a Christmas meal with? France recommends no more than six, in Chile it is 15, and in Brazil it is as many as you want.
Meanwhile, Italy’s mind-boggling, colour-coded holiday virus rules change almost every day for the next two weeks.
Christmas 2020 will look much like normal – even though the country has been among the world’s hardest-hit by the pandemic and new Covid-19 infections are on track to match the peak of the first surge.
Many beaches and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro were packed last weekend, despite a city measure forbidding drivers to park along the shore.
No national restrictions have been imposed ahead of Christmas, although the governor of Sao Paulo ordered that only essential services such as public transport, supermarkets and pharmacies remain open around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
– South Africa
Authorities are targeting beaches and booze as they impose new restrictions for the Christmas season amid resurgent infections.
Alcohol can only be sold from Monday to Thursday, and a night-time curfew is in place. Beaches — major tourist attractions at this time of year — will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The government is urging people to avoid crowded Christmas celebrations, but indoor gatherings of up to 100 people are still allowed, with up to 250 outdoors.
Police are setting up roadblocks to slow a second surge of infections that authorities and scientists say is being fuelled by another variant of the virus, distinct from the one in the UK. Some countries are banning flights from South Africa, where weekly infections and deaths have doubled over the past two weeks.
Unlike much of the world, Lebanon has eased restrictions for the holidays, hoping to inject foreign currency into a tanking economy. Tens of thousands of expats have arrived home for the season, leading to fears of a surge in infections.
Last week, the Interior Ministry allowed nightclubs to reopen — but said dancing will be prohibited, triggering a debate on social media about what constitutes dancing.
Lebanon’s health sector has been challenged by the pandemic that struck amid an unprecedented financial crisis. The massive August 4 explosion in Beirut’s port only increased pressure on the city’s hospitals, knocking out at least three of them.
Newspapers in Italy are running colour-coded graphics that resemble children’s board games to help people keep track of the rules aimed at limiting new infections over the holidays. Travel between regions is banned for 16 days, and a curfew begins at 10pm.
From December 24 to 27, “red” rules kick in, closing all shops except food stores, pharmacies and hairdressers. Two people can visit the home of another family member and take children younger than 14 with them. Restaurants and cafes cannot serve customers, although takeaway and home delivery are allowed.
– South Korea
The government is clamping down on private social gatherings of five or more people and closing tourist spots from Christmas Eve until at least January 3.
National parks and coastal tourist sites, where thousands travel to watch the sun rise on the new year, will close. So will churches and skiing, sledging and skating venues. Restaurants could face fines of up to 3 million won (£2,000) if they serve groups of five or more.
The greater Seoul area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, has been at the centre of a viral resurgence in recent weeks that has overwhelmed hospitals, increased death tolls and raised questions about how the government is handling the outbreak, after winning global praise for its response earlier in the year.
Forty-eight Covid-19 patients have died in the deadliest two days since the pandemic began.
Federal authorities have issued no nationwide restrictions on travel, a decision left to state governments, but a national agency is advising against criss-crossing the country for the Christmas season.
Millions of people have still passed through airport security in recent days. The travel company AAA predicted that nearly 85 million Americans would be journeying during the holidays – a 29% decline from last year.
The US has reported by far the most virus infections and deaths in the world, more than 18 million cases and 322,800 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Even before Christmas, new cases have been rising over the past two weeks.