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Planning for a ‘Covid-safe’ Christmas

2020 has been a difficult year and after months and months of National Coronavirus restrictions, it comes as no surprise that many people were pleased to hear that there will be some relaxation of rules over the festive period. While there has been much discussion throughout the pandemic about whether we would be able to have a ‘normal Christmas’ this year, not everyone is in agreement about whether spending time together indoors is the best way to show our loved ones that we care.

As it currently stands, a five-day Christmas dispensation will see restrictions lifted to allow a bubble of up to three households of any size mixing indoors and outdoors. However, scientists have warned that the plan will almost inevitably see a rise in the number of coronavirus cases.

Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director for NHS England warned “As sure as night follows day, that is two weeks later, unfortunately more hospital admissions, more people in hospital, more pressure on NHS services. And of course, unfortunately more deaths and long term health problems.”

This sentiment was echoed by former Health Secretary Lord Lansley, who has expressed his surprise at the plans:  ‘We are potentially weeks, perhaps months away from being able to vaccinate the most vulnerable and our oldest population. “ “Why expose them to any risk in this period? Why allow transmission potentially to accelerate even for a short period.”

The current advice requires family members to make a ’personal judgment’ over the risk for older relatives and others, particularly those who are vulnerable.  The NHS considers anyone 70 and over as “clinically vulnerable” and at moderate risk from coronavirus.  

Nicola Sturgeon, First minister for Scotland has reminded her constituents that the whatever the UK government decide the default advice and safest position is still that people should avoid unnecessary contact. ‘Just because you can mix with others indoors over this time, that doesn’t mean you have to do so and people should not feel under pressure to do so.’

As we now know, the virus spreads most easily indoors amid close contact over long periods, and can be passed on from a symptomless person, who may be unaware they are infected. Christmas presents the perfect opportunity for the virus to spread between these household bubbles.

Government adviser Chris Whitty gave a stark warning to the public not to hug elderly relatives this Christmas “if you want them to survive to be hugged again.”

The current restrictions do not require social distancing measures to be maintained, between the bubbled households whilst celebrating.

“It’s not against the law and that’s the whole point. You can do it in the rules that are there but it does not make sense.  Because you could be carrying the virus and if you have an elderly relative, that would not be the thing you want to do in the period where we’re running up to a point where we might be able to protect older people. “

However Stephen Reicher, a member of the behavioral science advisory group to SAGE, has pointed out that ‘Some people, such as those whose relatives may not have many Christmases left, may decide the risk of meeting indoors is worth it.

So what ways can we reduce the risk, whilst celebrating this Christmas?

Many people are embracing the possibility of a digital Christmas. Back to the ‘zoom quizzes’ and online meet-ups popular in the early days of the pandemic.

If being together virtually is not an option, others are planning outdoor celebrations or walks, as meeting outdoors has been shown to be far safer than indoors. Although the cold weather can make this challenging for frail or elderly people.

If you are planning on going ahead and meeting indoors you might want to consider limiting the length of the visit and keeping the room well ventilated.

Research has shown that in stuffy and confined spaces there can be ‘airborne transmission’ of the virus, with tiny particles lingering in the air.’

The governments former chief scientific advisor Sir David King has suggested limiting the number of contacts people have with others before they mix at Christmas will also help to reduce the risk. “People will need to be exceptionally careful unless they isolate for between 10-12 days before hand. The best way to remain safe is to avoid mixing indoors.”

It will be up to individual families to decide what level of risk they are willing to take but as Stephen Reicher reminds us “If we all take mixing to the official limit, this Christmas could be a disaster.”“ But It also provides the opportunity for a different sort of Christmas, one where we show our care for others whilst staying safe from Covid.”


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