Across much of Europe, where cases are also rising at an alarming rate, the conversation is focused on plans six weeks away.
Health officials in several countries are warning that residents should not bank on any sense of normalcy at Christmas, which often brings together far-flung relatives and, in cold-weather climates, is the quintessential time for cozy camaraderie under one roof.
Sweden recorded 5,990 new coronavirus cases Friday, marking the highest single-day increase in the country. The country avoided going into lockdown earlier this year, instead suggesting individuals could be trusted to take appropriate precautions against the virus.
But this week, a surge in cases prompted the government to announce a ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., which will remain in place through February. On Thursday, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference that residents should also be prepared to potentially face travel restrictions at Christmas.
In Ireland, chief medical officer Tony Holohan warned Thursday that citizens abroad should not consider returning for winter holidays.
“Travel that would normally happen at Christmas would have to be regarded as nonessential this Christmas,” he said.
His comments came after the Irish deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, urged that Irish citizens around the world hold off on booking flights home for Christmas.
“I know that’s difficult,” Varadkar said Thursday. “I know that’s tough, but Christmas is six weeks away and it’s too soon for people to be booking flights to come home.”
Varadkar also referenced a 1967 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain, noting that “people were asked not to come” to Ireland “and they didn’t and foot-and-mouth didn’t come to Ireland.”
“I’m not saying it’s the same but certainly we’re not in the position at this point to advise people that it’s safe to come home for Christmas,” he said.
Amid an increase in cases, Ireland imposed a national lockdown on Oct. 21, although schools remain open. Cases are now starting to slow down, but travelers returning home for Christmas, Holohan warned, could easily reverse any gains.
“People potentially coming back for the Christmas period are experiencing a much higher level of infection,” he said Thursday. “That will be one of the most significant risks for us if we make the progress we hope to make.”
Germany is currently in partial lockdown, with many businesses closed in a bid to curb infection. The restrictions have affected many of its lucrative Christmas markets, a mainstay of the festive season in Germany and other European countries. In the town of Landshut, one market adapted for the pandemic by allowing customers to buy treats in a drive-through.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned this week that the restrictions may need to stay in place through next month.
“We all need to be completely reasonable now,” she said in an online forum on Thursday, Bloomberg News reported. “We’re doing everything in order to make progress in December, but we need to get through the tough winter months.”
Health Minister Jens Spahn told German radio station RBB Inforadio on Thursday that even if the lockdown slows down transmission, it “doesn’t mean that things can really get going again everywhere from December or January, and that we can have wedding parties or Christmas celebrations as if nothing were happening — that won’t work.”
And on Friday, the country recorded 23,542 cases — its highest daily tally yet.
France, meanwhile, is in a strict lockdown amid an enormous surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The number of new cases in France has dropped dramatically in recent days. Still, as of Thursday, 32,638 people were hospitalized with the virus in France — more than at any other point in the pandemic.
When the country instated its lockdown late last month, which was initially set for just 15 days, President Emmanuel Macron said he hoped it would allow for significant progress against the virus and “cultivate the hope to celebrate with our families … Christmas and end-of-year festivities.”
But French Prime Minister Jean Castex told reporters Thursday that it’s still too soon to lift restrictions or say definitively whether people should plan for holiday travel.
“The pressure on our hospitals has intensified enormously,” he said.