Christmas get-togethers could prove fatal, medics warn

GPs are warning about the dangers of family get-togethers over the Christmas period, saying that failing to observe social-distancing could prove fatal.

Dr Satya Sharma believes allowing households to mix will lead to a spread of the virus
Dr Satya Sharma believes allowing households to mix will lead to a spread of the virus

Retired Black Country GP Dr Satya Sharma said he believed the Government would be making a mistake if it allowed households to mix over the Christmas period.

And fellow West Midland GP Dr Jess Harvey said people should seriously consider whether the short-term benefits of being able to see friends and family over Christmas were worth the health risks.

The Government is expected to announce a relaxation of the rules from December 22-29, with up to three households allowed to mix under one roof.

Dr Sharma said he could understand the pressure the Government was under, but believed allowing households to mix would lead to a spread of the virus.

"The virus is not going to take a break for Christmas," he said.

"I know there is a line of thought that no government can take away people's Christmas, but in my opinion, the cost is too high."

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Dr Harvey said she could understand that many families would want to spend time together over Christmas, but said people should also think about the risks to their loved ones.

"If you have got all your family together from all across the country, and you have got elderly relatives, the potential consequences could be fatal," she said.

Associate professor Dr Martin Khechara, senior lecturer in microbiology from Wolverhampton University, said people must not drop their guard over the festive season.

Prof Khechara said: “Remember the virus that causes Covid-19 can’t spread by itself – it is people that spread the virus.

"Even with the festive season close at hand, we still need to take care to wash our hands regularly, wear face coverings in public and enclosed spaces and avoid mixing with people outside your support bubble and in numbers greater than the current government guidelines say.

"Remember that just like in the summer, our wellbeing is still in each other’s hands, so let’s look after each other.”

Dr Harvey accepted people faced a difficult balancing act, but said just because residents were allowed to entertain visitors in their homes, it did not mean they should necessarily do so.

"I understand that this has been difficult, and has had an impact on mental health, and people are missing their friends and families, but a lot has been achieved so far through social distancing and two lockdowns," said Dr Harvey.

"If people start mixing with other households, they will be putting this at risk.

"Winter is a time when the NHS is usually under pressure.

"At the start of the pandemic people said they wanted to save lives and protect the NHS, and I don't see this as being very different."

Dr Harvey, who works at Ironbridge Medical Centre, said if people did decide to mix with other households over the festive period, they should take precautions to minimise the risk, which included maintaining social distancing at all times and preferably meeting outdoors where possible.

"If people do meet indoors, try to maintain a well-ventilated room, if possible leaving windows open," said Dr Harvey.

She said people had learned to adapt a lot in recent months, in many cases maintaining social contact through online platforms.

"This Christmas is going to be a bit different, but it doesn't mean it can't be worthwhile, it could be better in many ways if it is a bit simpler," she added.

"People have to look around and think about what's most important in life."

Dr Lisa McNally, director of public health for Sandwell, echoed the concerns.

She said the authority had the second highest in the Black Country and the third highest in the West Midlands.

Dr McNally said Tipton was the area with the highest rate in the borough.

“All across the West Midlands we are seeing rising hospital admissions and deaths due to Covid-19," she said.

“The situation is dangerous and we all need to do everything we can to keep ourselves and our families safe from this potentially fatal virus.”

Councillor Nicolas Barlow, cabinet member for health at Dudley Council, said he was concerned about the increase in the number of cases in the borough.

“We have seen a concerning upsurge in Covid-19 cases in our borough and as we continue to increase local testing capacity, I am asking anyone displaying symptoms, no matter how mild, to isolate and book a test," he said.

He said anyone with symptoms must immediately book a test, regardless of what day of the week it was, by calling 119 or visiting www.nhs.uk/coronavirus

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