Soaring COVID-19 infections across Europe have put a damper on celebrations at some of the famous Christmas markets that have survived wars and plagues in Germany and Austria forcing them to close as they were to have opened.
Europe is again a coronavirus epicenter and as hospitals' intensive-care beds fill up and some of Germany's treasured Christmas markets are imperiled, The Los Angeles Times reported.
"It would be advisable to cancel all large events," the newspaper quoted Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's disease control center, adding a caution that big indoor festivities could "end up being superspreader events."
German-speaking countries were looking forward to a return to pre-COVID-19 times after lockdowns in 2020 left the countries with no Christmas markets, Catholic News Service reported.
The German states of Bavaria and Saxon, where anti-vaccination protests have taken place, announced Nov. 19 they would close all Christmas markets from Nov. 22.
Christmas markets are part of the German Advent social life and normally run from the week before the first Sunday of Advent until a day or two before Christmas Eve.
People gather to eat and drink while snapping up handicrafts or typical local specialties as gifts.
German-speaking countries of Austria, Switzerland and Germany have a much lower vaccination rate. Compared to the nearly fully vaccinated southwestern European countries like Portugal or Spain, 68% of Germans, and 66% of Austrians and Swiss have had doses to combat COVID-19.
Berlin's Archbishop Heiner Koch was among those who have announced only vaccinated people or people who had recovered from COVID-19 would be allowed into Christmas church services.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe says, "COVID-19 has exacted a devastating death toll in our region, but we can now categorically say that without COVID-19 vaccines as a tool to contain this pandemic, many more people would have died."
"The situation is very, very serious and difficult," Markus Soeder, premier of the southern state of Bavaria, was quoted as saying by AFP as he also announced a shutdown of clubs, bars and night service at restaurants.
The eastern state of Saxony went even further by closing all sporting and cultural venues, banning ttourism, public consumption of alcohol and barring the unvaccinated from non-essential shops and hairdressers.
Markets in northern and western Germany opened, many of them under stringent conditions for the first time since 2019.
The tourist magnet Salzburg Christkindlmarkt opened on the square in front of the city's Catholic cathedral on Nov. 18, but regional politicians announced a full lockdown from Nov. 22 in one of Austria's COVID-19 hot spots.
"The lights will continue to burn, but the stalls will be closed," Wolfgang Haider, chairman of the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt association, told the Austrian ORF broadcaster afterward.
He estimated the financial loss to be at least 2 million euros ($2.27 million).
During the Salzburg news conference announcing the lockdown, a local journalist told city officials that, on the market square, many of the hundred Christmas market stall holders, family run small businesses - were openly crying after they received the news.
A day later, it was announced that all of Austria lockdown for three weeks for a second straight year and all Christmas markets, hotels and retail stores must close until Dec. 13; uncertainty lingering as to whether they would be able to open again.
In Germany, the Bavaria and Saxony regulations hit some of the oldest and most traditional Christmas markets in Germany.
Saxony has the lowest vaccination rate in Germany — just 58% of the population is fully vaccinated, and it is home to many anti-vaxxers.
Health officials say that the most hospitalized group and those with the highest death rate are those who are not vaccinated against the virus.