Faith can be a source of support, comfort and guidance particularly in times of COVID-19, and springtime is rich with religious celebrations, including Passover, Easter and Ramadan. Currently everyone is experiencing a mix of frustration and hope, as vaccine coverage remains low but early signs of vaccination impact appear. While some of the most vulnerable people have received a vaccination against COVID-19, a large majority remain at risk of infection.

Many countries across the WHO European Region are in the midst of a serious resurgence of COVID-19 cases, and at this point in the pandemic we cannot afford to drop our guard and give up any of the public health measures used so far.

It is difficult to be physically separated from loved ones for yet another holiday, and tough not being together to pray or celebrate. At the same time, everyone’s contribution to stopping COVID-19 counts. Individual decisions during these religious festivals affect more than those close by – they will also impact communities.

Celebrations, gatherings and travel: advice to individuals and communitiesThere are clear risks associated with any increased physical interactions, and many countries are introducing protective measures over the next few weeks that everyone should follow. In settings where gatherings are allowed, there are simple measures that individuals and communities can take to make celebrations as safe as possible.

On celebrations – Communities across the European Region are weighing whether to host religious or social celebrations during this time. In countries experiencing widespread community transmission of the virus, virtual meetings, postponing or reducing such gatherings should be seriously considered.Regardless of location, any religious service should be held outdoors wherever possible or be limited in size and duration, with physical distancing, ventilation, hand hygiene and mask use, as appropriate. A preferred option is for people to celebrate with those they live with, and not meet with others if feeling unwell or if required to stay in isolation or quarantine.On indoor gatherings – Indoor gatherings, even smaller ones, can be especially risky because they bring together groups of people, young and old, from different households, who may not all be adhering to the same infection prevention measures. Limiting group size and time spent indoors, and ensuring good ventilation are key to reducing risk of exposure to COVID-19.If organizing a small gathering or event, follow local recommendations on the maximum number of participants and take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among guests. It may feel awkward to wear masks and stay physically distant when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy.On travelling – If travelling is the only way to visit family and friends, avoid any transportation that might be crowded. Consider all related risks and ask yourself whether travel is an absolute necessity.Some countries require a negative COVID-19 test or other information on health status before granting access, and many require quarantine. WHO encourages everyone to strictly follow guidance from national authorities when travelling, and to avoid any unnecessary travel.While marking the spring holidays this year may look different, it is still possible if protective measures and precautions are taken. Be your own risk manager, protect yourselves and others.