The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that COVID-19 transmission across the European region remains “widespread and intense,” urging people to wear masks at Christmas family gatherings.

“It may feel awkward to wear masks and practice physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy,” the WHO said on its website.

The WHO Europe published some guidelines for minimizing the COVID-19 risk with advice to individuals, communities, and governments for the winter holidays.

Its warning came as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned during the week that the number of weekly deaths increased by around 60%, with a doubling in Europe in the past six weeks.

“Most cases and deaths are in Europe and the Americas,” Tedros said at a recent news webinar.

The WHO said that despite some fragile progress made against the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 transmission remained widespread, and made a plea for people to stop the spread of the virus.

“Annually across Europe, we see a massive increase in gatherings that bring together people of all ages, including families, religious groups, and friends,” said the organization.

Such gatherings pose a significant risk of increased COVID-19 transmission during the upcoming holiday season.

“There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it,” said the health organization.

The WHO urged people to assess winter gatherings such as sporting, recreational or religious meetings and be careful. “Take measures to decongest public transport and key transportation hubs.”

The WHO said that regardless of where they might occur, “religious services should take place differently this year. “They should be held outdoors whenever possible or be limited in size and duration, with physical distancing, ventilation, hand hygiene, and mask use.”

It noted that for some people traveling may be the only way to visit families and friends, but it recommended that those traveling should avoid crowded transportation.

The WHO said: “Do not underestimate the importance of your decisions and your power – as an individual, a family or a community – to influence what happens next in this pandemic.”

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