With more than 500,000 people across Europe dead as a result of the coronavirus, and a growing mental health crisis on the continent, a World Health Organization official had a message for Europeans on Friday ahead of the Christmas holiday time: Stay home.
Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the agency’s regional director for Europe, reflected on the “far-reaching and relentless fallout from the pandemic” and said in a statement that now was not the time to loosen restrictions.
“While families debate how to spend their holidays, I have a final appeal to make. There remains a difference between what you are being permitted to do by your authorities and what you should do,” he said. “The safest thing right now is to remain at home.”
He also addressed concerns around mental health during the pandemic, emphasizing that the psychological impact of lockdowns and the knock-on effects of unemployment and financial worries would be “long-term and far-reaching.”
“The mental health toll of Covid-19 will be compounded by anxieties that often present during the winter and holiday season,” he said. “We cannot underestimate the impact this can have on our friends, our families and our own mental health.”
A patchwork of policies are in place across Europe in the lead-up to Christmas as nations struggle to cope with a surge of new coronavirus infections while also contending with a two-week period that is traditionally a time for large family gatherings, travel and celebrations. Germany has introduced a strict lockdown for Christmas week, and the Netherlands and Italy will have more stringent measures in place over the holiday.
France and Spain have some restrictions in place, but have resisted full new national lockdowns. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticized for lifting restrictions on Christmas gatherings even as new infections spike.
Looking ahead to 2021, Dr. Kluge said there was “much to look forward to” with the early stages of vaccine rollout on the horizon, although he said that there would be “a few more months of sacrifice ahead.”
“When we look back on these unprecedented times,” he said, “I hope we all feel that we acted with a spirit of shared humanity to protect those in need.”