The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Coronavirus has altered Christmas. But in a few countries, it looks a little like normal.

Children outside Cua Bac church run to view a Nativity scene in Hanoi on Dec. 22. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images)

While Christians in the Americas, Europe, India, Russia and elsewhere have had to curtail their holiday celebrations due to coronavirus restrictions and widespread infections, in some parts of the world, the holiday is set to proceed a little bit more like it normally does.

With limited outbreaks, places including Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Taiwan and Vietnam have rolled back some regulations to allow for Christmas celebrations or already had few restrictions in place.

Victoria state in Australia reported no new coronavirus cases ahead of Christmas — a miracle of sorts for 2020. The state, however, has in place restrictions on travelers from some other parts of the country, like New South Wales, which on Wednesday reported nine new cases.

“The virus doesn’t stop for Christmas; we don’t stop for Christmas,” Victoria’s testing chief Jeroen Weimar told Australian media. “If you’ve got symptoms on Christmas Day, go and get tested on Christmas Day.”

The government of New South Wales, which is Australia’s most populous state, announced Wednesday that new case levels were low enough for it to ease restrictions limiting social gatherings for the duration of Christmas.

“Can I be very clear that whatever we have in place today goes back on the 27th and in between, they’re very modest tweaks and modest changes to account for the fact that everybody has had a very difficult year,” said State Premier Gladys Berejiklian, according to Reuters.

Under the loosened rules, residents of Greater Sydney can host up to 10 people, while the city’s harder-hit northern suburbs are permitted five guests from the area.

Remote Pacific islands escaped the coronavirus this year. It devastated their economies anyway.

New Zealand — a world leader in efforts to eliminate the virus — has recorded 49 active coronavirus cases, nine of which were newly detected in travelers from abroad, according to the ministry of health.

The country has instituted strict border restrictions to curtail international travelers who could bring in the virus. That means some families this Christmas will have to remain apart due to the travel ban — but those inside the country will be able to celebrate together.

Vietnam has been another leader in controlling the coronavirus. On Nov. 30, the country reported its first case of local transmission in 89 days — just 10 days short of the previous streak of 99 days, broken in July. Vietnam has in place strict restrictions on international travel and a robust contact tracing system.

Taiwan on Tuesday broke a streak of no recorded locally transmitted coronavirus cases for 253 days, after a pilot from New Zealand tested positive. As of Dec. 1, masks are required in many public places in Taiwan — and that vigilance seems to have paid off.

In Rwanda, in response to the pandemic, the government has permitted religious groups to gather only once a week for prayer services at 50 percent capacity. Most Christians gather on Sundays, but authorities will allow congregations to hold services on Christmas, a Friday, as well, according to local media.

“Christmas, to Christians, is more than an ordinary day; and we are cognizant of that,” Minister of Local Government Anastase Shyaka told Rwanda’s New Times. “This time, churches that are already operating will hold service on Christmas.”

“Like we urged church leaders during a recent meeting we had with them, they should double efforts in observing covid-19 preventive measures,” he said.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.