With Christmas just around the corner, people across Europe are attempting to make plans to visit friends and family while navigating COVID-19 travel restrictions, lockdowns and curfews. Rules for gatherings over Christmas vary considerably from country to country, with some governments yet to decide exactly what kinds of travel and celebrations will be allowed.
Here are the latest regulations and guidelines issues by major European countries for travel over the Christmas period.
The UK government plans to relax COVID-19 guidelines somewhat over the Christmas period, allowing people to form a ‘Christmas bubble’ of up to three households who can celebrate together over the holiday between December 23 and 27.
People will be allowed to travel between the four nations of the UK and between areas in different tiers in order to meet others in their Christmas bubble, provided any mixing takes place in private homes, places of worship, or outdoor public spaces.
Members of a Christmas bubble will be allowed to travel to stay in private rented accommodation over the December 23 and 27 period, and individual household bubbles may also stay in hotels as long as they do not mix with other members of their Christmas bubble there.
The activities and entertainment available over the Christmas period will vary according to which of the three COVID tiers you are in, with those in Tier 1 and 2 allowed to visit pubs and restaurants and attend sports and live events, while those in Tier 3 can only enjoy take-out and are not permitted to attend outdoor or indoor events.
Under the tiered system, those in Tiers 1 and 2 are free to travel abroad. Whilst it is not illegal for those in Tier 3 areas to travel in the tiered system to go on holiday, they are discouraged from taking non-essential trips. Those from abroad are permitted to enter the UK but may need to undergo a period of self-isolation. People from countries listed as approved travel-corridors do not need to self-isolate on arrival.
The French government is yet to make a final decision on the rules for the Christmas period. The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, has indicated that restrictions are likely to be relaxed somewhat for Christmas, but there would certainly be no large parties or gatherings.
France has been under a lockdown measures since October 30 as the country deals with a new wave of the virus. A three-step relaxation of lockdown rules began on December 1 with shops allowed to reopen in time for the Christmas season. However, bars and restaurants will remain closed until January 20, and a curfew will be in place from 9pm to 7am – with the exception of December 24 and 31st.
One normal French Christmas tradition is certain to be different this year, with the government forcing ski resorts to close over the holiday in a bid to prevent another surge in infections. Despite opposition from the ski towns, which do a huge amount of business over the Christmas period, the French government has mandated that resorts must stay closed until January 20 at the earliest.
The government has also said that it will carry out random checks at the border with Switzerland to prevent people from traveling to ski over Christmas, with Swiss resorts planning to stay open over the holiday period at present.
This will put a dampener on Christmas plans for people in France and across Europe, many of whom travel to the French Alps to ski over the holidays. Travelers from most European countries are still permitted entry to France, but all new arrivals must display evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test.
The German government recently announced an extension of the ‘lockdown light’ measures which have been in place since the beginning of November, indicating that restrictions will not be lifted until December 20 at the earliest and possibly not until January. Restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities are closed and will remain so over the lockdown extension.
However, the government has agreed a partial lifting of the lockdown rules over the Christmas period. From December 23 to January 1 members of one household will be allowed to meet with up to 10 people from other households to celebrate the holiday. People will be encouraged to self-isolate before and after attending holiday gatherings.
In line with other European countries including France and Italy, Germany has announced that its ski resorts will stay closed until January 10, preventing Germans from taking skiing breaks this Christmas. Travelers from most European countries are allowed to enter Germany, but new arrivals are required to self-isolate for 10 days, reduced to 5 days if they receive a negative COVID-19 test taken on the fifth day or later after arrival in Germany.
The Italian government has maintained strict restrictions on travel as it deals with a second wave of the virus. Christmas markets have been banned this year and travel between different regions is not allowed at present. The government has indicated that restrictions will be eased somewhat over Christmas, but gatherings will likely be limited to immediate family.
Italy has been keen to coordinate a European ban on skiing holidays over Christmas, alongside France and Germany. President Giuseppe Conte has called for Italians to avoid travelling to ski slopes over the holiday, amid fears that large gatherings of people across the country in lift lines, lodges and piazzas will accelerate the spread of the virus once more.
Italy requires all new arrivals to quarantine for two weeks on entry to the country, making short-term trips over the Christmas period difficult. The country is trialing COVID-tested flights between Rome and the US which eliminate the need to quarantine, but these are not yet available for travel within Europe.
The Spanish government is yet to confirm final rules for the Christmas period, but any relaxation of restrictions is likely to be limited. Much like the rest of Europe, the country is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 and remains in a state of emergency, with nightly curfews enforced from 11pm.
The central government is currently considering plans to relax the curfew to 1am on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. People are likely to be able to travel between regions, but Christmas gatherings will be limited to immediate households or a maximum of six people if different households mix.
The relaxation of restrictions over Christmas may vary by region. Catalonia will allow family members to meet in groups of up to 10 people from 21 December, while bars and restaurants are currently in a phased reopening. Meanwhile, the Madrid region is closing its borders between December 4 and 13 and maintaining curfew between 12am-6am in order to keep the virus under control and enable it to relax the rules somewhat over Christmas.
Spain has not joined France, Germany and Italy in closing its ski resorts over Christmas, and indeed is trying to ensure that the slopes remain open for the holidays. It remains to be seen if this stance will last through December, with pressure coming to bear on EU countries to coordinate skiing restrictions.
Travel to Spain is allowed from most European countries, but new arrivals from high-risk countries – including most EU members at present – must display evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories