How can I see my family safely this Christmas?

While people have been warned that Covid-19 will not disappear at Christmas, there are steps people can take to reduce their risk.

While people have been warned that Covid-19 will not disappear at Christmas, there are steps people can take to reduce their risk
While people have been warned that Covid-19 will not disappear at Christmas, there are steps people can take to reduce their risk

Many scientists and public health experts have been dubious over Christmas plans which will allow families to come together.

But some have suggested tips on how families can visit their loved ones in the safest possible way.

While there will never be “no risk”, people can take steps to reduce the odds of being infected and spreading the virus to their loved ones.

These include:

Bubble exclusivity

Up to three households can form an exclusive “bubble” to meet at home from December 23 to 27. When a bubble is formed it is fixed and must not be changed or extended further at any point.

Professor Graham Medley, an expert in infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that people should be “completely faithful” to any social bubble arrangements.

Dr Michael Tildesley, associate professor in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, told Times Radio on Monday: “We need to get very clear messaging out to people to say ‘keep those bubbles exclusive if you are going to merge two to three households’.

“What you don’t need to do is go and see your grandparents and then go out to see your friends in the pub on the same day, and go back to your grandparents – because that’s where the real risk is.”

Isolation

If people want to take extra care, they can isolate before seeing loved ones. This reduces the risk of people who have the virus and do not know it – from passing it on.

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, suggested a two-week isolation period.

“If you’re going to see elderly or vulnerable individuals, you can isolate for two weeks, if you’re able to, so you’re not going to expose them,” she told MPs on Tuesday.

Prof Medley also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that people should isolate before visiting relatives and to consider the amount of time they plan to spend with them.

Government guidance on bubbles suggests that people should “reduce unnecessary contact with people you do not live with as much as possible in the two weeks before you form your Christmas bubble”.

Ventilation and spending time outdoors

Prof Sridhar told MPs on Tuesday it was “risky” for people to meet indoors – particularly when there are elderly relatives around and alcohol could be involved.

“Get outside – we know outside is so much safer than inside, go for a walk, have a meal outside,” she told a joint meeting of the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee.

“If you’re going to be inside, ventilate, open your windows, make sure there’s plenty of air circulation.”

Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews said that the virus spreads in “enclosed spaces that are crowded and stuffy” and called for funds to be allocated for outdoor community events.

Government guidance also suggests people could consider the use of technology.

Hands, Face, Space

People should try and keep a distance where possible and should ensure they wash their hands regularly with soap for at least 20 seconds.

The use of masks could cause controversy but wearing a mask in an enclosed space can help stop the spread of the virus.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of council at the British Medical Association said: “For any additional mixing that does take place over the Christmas period, it is absolutely vital that people know to adopt the necessary safety precautions such as ventilating rooms and limiting physical contact when masks are not worn.

“After an incredibly challenging year, we all want to enjoy this Christmas with our loved ones but more important still is taking the most responsible decisions to ensure our loved ones are healthy and safe so we can enjoy many more to come.”

Extra cleaning

Government guidance says that people should clean touch points regularly, such as door handles and surfaces.

Frequently used surfaces such as light switches and toilet handles should be wiped down regularly.

Vulnerability

Take extra care when there are people who are deemed to be at a higher risk – including the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

Prof Medley urged people to weigh up the risk of spreading Covid-19 to those who are vulnerable. And he said that even with mitigations in place, social interactions come with risks that “could play out very badly for some people”.

The Government guidance on bubbles suggest people should “consider ways to celebrate Christmas in other ways, such as the use of technology and meeting outdoors”.

Remember you are not invincible

Even if you’re not deemed to be at high risk to the virus, it can still be an extremely unpleasant disease and can have long-term implications. Tens of thousands of Britons are suffering from debilitating long-term after-effects of the virus – this includes previously young and fit people – including brain fog, pain, extreme fatigue and breathlessness.

Test and Isolate

The rules on self-isolation will not change. If you develop any symptoms of coronavirus – a fever, a new and persistent cough or a new loss or change in sense of smell or taste – you must self-isolate and get a test.

After Christmas

People should remember that they may have contracted the virus without knowing it. The Government guidance suggests that in the two weeks which follow your last meeting with your Christmas bubble, you should reduce your contact with people that you do not live with as much as possible.

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