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World: Europe's Christmas markets warily open as COVID cases rise

Austrians enjoy final day before impending lockdown

  Austrians enjoy final day before impending lockdown VIENNA (AP) — Austrians were enjoying a last day out in coffeehouses and at Christmas markets Sunday before the government imposes a nationwide lockdown to combat a growing fourth wave of coronavirus infections. The measures, which take effect Monday and are expected to last for a maximum of 20 days but will be reevaluated after 10, require people to stay home apart from basic reasons like getting groceries, going to the doctor and exercising. © Provided by Associated Press People sit at an outdoor cafe on a street decorated with Christmas lights in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The holiday tree is towering over the main square in this central German city, the chestnuts and sugared almonds are roasted, and kids are clambering aboard the merry-go-round just like they did before the pandemic. But a surge in coronavirus infections has left an uneasy feeling hanging over Frankfurt's Christmas market.

FILE - Lights illuminate the Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Lights illuminate the Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

To savor a mug of mulled wine — a pleasurable rite of winter in pre-pandemic times — masked customers must pass through a one-way entrance to a fenced-off wine hut, stopping at the hand sanitizer station. Elsewhere, security officers check vaccination certificates before letting customers head for the steaming sausages and kebabs.

Police: 'Some' killed when SUV hits Christmas parade

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FILE - A vendor speaks on the phone at a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 20, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A vendor speaks on the phone at a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 20, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. Merchants who have opened are hoping for at least a fraction of the pre-pandemic holiday sales that can make or break their businesses.

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FILE - Lights illuminate the Christmas market at the Gendarmen Markt square, in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Lights illuminate the Christmas market at the Gendarmen Markt square, in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

Others aren’t so lucky. Many of the famous holiday events have been canceled in Germany and Austria. With the market closures goes the money that tourists would spend in restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

Jens Knauer, who crafts intricate, lighted Christmas-themed silhouettes that people can hang in windows, said his hope was simply that the Frankfurt market “stays open as long as possible.”

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While Christmas is 40% of annual revenue for many retailers and restaurateurs, “with me, it’s 100%,” Knauer said. “If I can stay open for three weeks, I can make it through the year.”

Purveyors are on edge after other Christmas markets were abruptly shut down in Germany's Bavaria region, which includes Nuremberg, home of one of the biggest and best-known markets. Stunned exhibitors in Dresden had to pack up their goods when authorities in the eastern Saxony region suddenly imposed new restrictions amid soaring infections. Austria's markets closed as a 10-day lockdown began Monday, with many stall owners hoping they can reopen if it's not extended.

FILE - The word © Provided by Associated Press FILE - The word "Corona" at the Christmas market in central Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Markets usually attract elbow-to-elbow crowds to row upon row of ornament and food sellers, foot traffic that spills over into revenue for surrounding hotels and restaurants. This year, the crowds at Frankfurt’s market were vastly thinned out, with the stalls spread out over a larger area.

Bidens open holidays with Christmas tree and 'friendsgiving'

  Bidens open holidays with Christmas tree and 'friendsgiving' WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden opened the holiday season at the White House by breaking off a sprig from the official Blue Room tree and giving it — and a big smooch — to her toddler grandson. “Look how beautiful this is,” the first lady said of the 18 1/2-foot (5.6 meter) Fraser fir that was delivered by wagon to her Pennsylvania Avenue doorstep by Clydesdale horses named Ben and Winston. “It is beautiful. It's magnificent, really,” she said Monday.The first lady later joined President Joe Biden for a visit to the Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina to celebrate “friendsgiving” with service members and military families.

Heiner Roie, who runs a mulled wine hut in the shape of a wine barrel, said he's assuming he will see half the business he had in 2019. A shutdown would cause “immense financial damage — it could lead to complete ruin since we haven't made any income in two years, and at some point, the financial reserves are used up.”

But if people have a little discipline and observe the health measures, “I think we’ll manage it,” he said.

FILE - A man walks by a closed Christmas market, next to the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A man walks by a closed Christmas market, next to the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

Next door, Bettina Roie's guests are greeted with a sign asking them to show their vaccination certificates at her stand serving Swiss raclette, a popular melted cheese dish.

The market "has a good concept because what we need is space, room, to keep some distance from each other," she said. “In contrast to a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, they have their building and their walls, but we can adjust ourselves to the circumstances.”

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The extended Roie family is a fifth-generation exhibitor business that also operates the merry-go-round on Frankfurt's central Roemerberg square, where the market opened Monday.

FILE - A man takes photographs in a deserted square at the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A man takes photographs in a deserted square at the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

Roie said it was important to reopen “so that we can bring the people even during the pandemic a little joy — that’s what we do, we bring back joy.”

Vender Nils Knauerbstnads stands in his booth at the Christmas market in central Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) © Provided by Associated Press Vender Nils Knauerbstnads stands in his booth at the Christmas market in central Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The latest spike in COVID-19 cases has unsettled prospects for Europe's economic recovery, leading some economists to hedge their expectations for growth in the final months of the year.

Cases soar but Swiss eschew lockdown as COVID law vote looms

  Cases soar but Swiss eschew lockdown as COVID law vote looms GENEVA (AP) — Like many others in Europe, Switzerland is facing a steep rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictive measures. Analysts say it doesn't want to stir up more opposition to its anti-COVID-19 policies, which face a crucial test at the ballot box this weekend as critics have grown increasingly loud. On Sunday, as part of the country’s regular referendums, Swiss voters will cast ballots about the so-called “COVID-19 law” that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs (dollars) in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic.

Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, has cut his forecast for the last three months of the year in the 19 countries that use the euro from 0.7% to 0.5%. But he noted that the wave of infections is having less impact across the broad economy because vaccinations have reduced serious illnesses and many companies have learned to adjust.

FILE - A girl rides on a merry-go-round on the first day of the Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A girl rides on a merry-go-round on the first day of the Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

That is cold comfort to Germany's DEHOGA restaurant and hotel association, which warned of a “hail of cancellations” and said members were reporting every second Christmas party or other special event was being called off.

Other European countries where the pandemic isn't hitting as hard are returning to old ways. The traditional Christmas market in Madrid's Plaza Mayor, in the heart of the Spanish capital, is slated to open Friday at the size it was before the pandemic.

FILE - People visit the illuminated Christmas Market in Rostock, Germany, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (Bernd Wuestneck/dpa via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - People visit the illuminated Christmas Market in Rostock, Germany, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (Bernd Wuestneck/dpa via AP, File)

It will have 104 stalls of nativity figures, decorations and traditional sweets in a country where 89% of those 12 or older are fully vaccinated. Last year, it had half the number of stalls and restricted the number of people allowed in the square. Masks and social distancing will remain mandatory, organizers said.

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In Hungary's capital of Budapest, Christmas markets have been fenced off and visitors must show proof of vaccination to enter.

FILE - People crowd a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 21, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - People crowd a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 21, 2021. Despite the pandemic inconveniences, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially with new restrictions taking effect in Germany, Austria and other countries as COVID-19 infections hit record highs. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)

Gyorgy Nagy, a producer and seller of handmade glazed crockery, said the restrictions initially stirred worries of fewer shoppers. But business has been good so far.

“I don’t think the fence is bad,” he said. “At the beginning, we were scared of it, really scared, but I think it’s fine. ... I don’t think it will be a disadvantage.”

Markets opening reflects a broader spectrum of loose restrictions in Hungary, even as new COVID-19 cases have exceeded peaks seen during a devastating surge last spring. More infections were confirmed last week than in other week since the pandemic started.

A representative for the Advent Bazilika Christmas market said a number of its measures go beyond government requirements, including that all vendors wear masks and those selling food and drinks be vaccinated.

Bea Lakatos, a seller of fragrant soaps and oils at the Budapest market, said that while sales have been a bit weaker than before the pandemic, “I wasn’t expecting so many foreign visitors given the restrictions.”

“I think things aren’t that bad so far,” she said this week. “The weekend started particularly strong.”

In Vienna, markets were packed last weekend as people sought some Christmas cheer before Austria's lockdown. Merchants say closures last year and the new restrictions have had disastrous consequences.

“The main sales for the whole year are made at the Christmas markets — this pause is a huge financial loss,” said Laura Brechmann who sold illuminated stars at the Spittelberg market before the lockdown began. “We hope things will reopen, but I personally don’t really expect it.”

In Austria's Salzkammergut region, home to ski resorts and the picturesque town of Hallstatt, the tourism industry hopes the national lockdown won't be extended past Dec. 13 and it can recover some much-needed revenue.

Last winter’s extended lockdowns cost the tourism board alone 1 million euros ($1.12 million) just in nightly tourist tax fees during that period — not to mention the huge financial losses sustained by hotels, restaurants and ski resorts.

“Overall, I do think that if things open up again before Christmas, we can save the winter season,” said Christian Schirlbauer, head of tourism for the Dachstein-Salzkammergut region. “But it will depend on whether or not the case numbers go down.”

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Emily Schultheis reported from Vienna, and Justin Spike from Budapest, Hungary. Aritz Parra contributed to this report from Madrid.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

How Many Days Until Christmas Are There? Here's Your Festive Countdown .
The unofficial start of the festive shopping season was on Black Friday. But how far are we from Christmas?But how far are we exactly from the big day?

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