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Europe’s Xmas message: Better safe than sorry

10:48 PM Nov 28, 2020 | Agencies

Please leave a chair empty at this year's family Christmas dinner as a precaution, or face the possibility of having that chair empty forever.

That's the stark dilemma Belgium's prime minister has set to urge smaller festive family gatherings, as Europeans battle with containing the surging COVID-19 pandemic over the holiday season.

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Alexander De Croo argued that the country's long-running, costly efforts should not be thrown away for the sake of a few warm and fuzzy hours exchanging gifts under the Christmas tree.

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"I would not want the progress of the past four weeks to be wasted because of four days," he told legislators this week.

Europe's nations are struggling to reconcile cold medical advice with a tradition that calls for big gatherings in often poorly ventilated rooms, where people chat, shout and sing together - providing an ideal conduit for a virus that has killed over 350,000 people in the continent so far.

These weeks it is the No. 1 cause of death in the European Union.

Yet the desire for contact with family is such that all the horrible realities can be briefly sidelined. In France, it took a letter addressed to Santa Claus to put it in perspective.

If families have not lost close ones to the pandemic, many have been unable to meet for much of the year when distancing had to do the job that, hopefully, vaccines will do in 2021.

Often grandparents could not see their grandchildren, and family functions - even weddings or funerals - required minute planning and heart-wrenching choices on who would be excluded.

Hence the groundswell to hit the pause button, even for just a few days. Britain, with the continent's highest death rate at 57,031 yet a Christmas tradition unlike few others, could not resist the temptation of relaxation.

People are currently barred from visiting other households in much of the UK and there are travel limits to high-infection areas.

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