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‘Play it safe’: WHO pleads with Europe to have quiet Christmas or risk third wave across continent in early 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has pleaded with Europeans to have a quiet Christmas or risk a renewed surge in coronavirus cases in early 2021.

In guidance published on Wednesday, WHO said any increase in gatherings over the holiday season would bring “significant risk” of heightened Covid-19 infections.

“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.

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”. 

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.