Christmas this year will be one like no other, with many people planning much smaller festivities. The government is relaxing the rules for a few days but there are still limits on with how many households you can share Christmas and large-scale festive events had to be scrapped for this year. Currently we can meet in three bubbling households – but that is the maximum and the smaller the number of households mixing the less the risk.
We need to be very cautious. This virus is still killing people every day and it will keep doing so unless we keep isolated or until enough of those most vulnerable are vaccinated. If we mix too much over Christmas, infection rates are likely to increase and place more pressure upon the NHS.
The safest approach is not to meet others indoors outside your household or bubble. A lot of people understandably do want to meet up after so many months of being cut off from the people they love. This Christmas however has to be different if we want to stay safe, so think about alternatives. Mixing up younger and older family members may be very risky indeed.
- Can you see family and friends outside in a garden or park?
- How about meeting in a COVID19-secure café or restaurant if those are open in your area?
- If someone is housebound, can you visit but keep some distance and wear a mask?
- Should you simply wait a few more months to see a vulnerable loved one until they have been vaccinated?
Seeing family and friends over Christmas is a calculated risk and we all need to think carefully about who we can meet up with, where we should meet and whether we should meet at all. This is particularly important if you have grandparents or other relatives over 70. The government has suggested that if you want to meet up inside with elderly relatives then you should self-isolate 7 days beforehand to help keep them safe.
Think carefully about travelling to see loved ones. Are you going from an area with higher infection rates (more cases) to one with very few? It’s better not to travel if that’s the case. Where possible don’t share a car with someone who isn’t in your household or support bubble. If you must do so then everyone in the car should wear a mask and open the windows to at least some degree. If using public transport then wear a mask at all times and follow the instructions the rail, bus, airline or ferry company provide – they have spent a lot of time and money trying to reduce risks.
The longer you spend together with people outside your household the greater the risk. Shorter visits are better than a long one. Avoid overnight stays if you can because that means sharing bathrooms and kitchens.
Although the festive period is one that most people associate with rest and relaxation we still need to be aware that:
- COVID-19 only “breeds” in human cells. It can’t breed on surfaces or in the air.
- COVID infection spreads by infected people spreading the virus to other people.
- Most infections are transmitted in people’s households.
- You won’t know if someone in your household is spreading infection because 50% or more of people who are infectious are asymptomatic so don’t realise that they have Covid19
- The more contact there is between household members, the more cases will increase – locally and nationally. If the number of these contacts decrease, rates will fall again. The risk is zero only when nobody is infected.
- The more time you spend with an infected person the more likely they will infect you.
- The biggest risk comes from virus recently breathed out, or deposited on surfaces, by the infected person. Once they leave your home, risks from any virus they leave behind in the air or on surfaces will get less, particularly if you keep your home well ventilated and if you clean and sanitise both before and after your guests visit.
- The riskiest surfaces are those frequently touched by many people such as tap and door handles, telephones, mobile devices, television remotes etc.
Before guests arrive make sure that you speak with everyone first to discuss and agree the “new” Christmas. Don’t be embarrassed about this as many people are anxious about COVID19 and may have some good ideas of their own. Settling how you are going to stay safe will be less embarrassing than on the day! Ask guests to bring face coverings and wear them when not eating or drinking if they can. Before guests arrive clean and disinfect hand contact surfaces in your house. Ask guests to sanitise their hands on arrival and before and after using the toilet and leave some disinfectant spray in there so they can clean the toilet seat, flush handle, taps and door handle before they leave. Have hand sanitiser available in every room and ask guests to use it and wash their hands frequently throughout the day. Disinfectant wipes are a convenient way of disinfecting touch points quickly.
If you are planning on seeing people over Christmas, we have put together some tips for keeping yourself and your loved ones safe:
1. Keep your social distance – 2 meters is the minimum
2. Don’t hug or kiss people
3. Wash your hands frequently and use paper towels not a shared one
4. Think about wearing a mask when meeting friends and family, particularly if inside
5. Limit the number of people in your home
6. If you can’t meet up outside, make sure your house is well ventilated – open windows and doors and wear warm clothes
7. Don’t sit opposite people you don’t live with and sit households together – don’t mingle
8. Don’t share things like serving spoons, playing cards or game controllers – instead of board games play charades
9. Don’t have large serving bowls on the table – have one person from one household serving the food onto plates in the kitchen and bring them in.
10. If you usually have a Christmas singalong or like to dance do something different this year; set a new tradition!
I have worked with the Royal Society for Public Health and the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene to produce this useful infographic https://www.rsph.org.uk/about-us/news/have-a-jolly-careful-christmas.html
Please also have a look at www.ifh-homehygiene.org for more guidance.