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COVID-19 and Christmas

COVID-19 and Christmas

In this article weíll look at how to reduce the risk of transmission if you choose to meet with family this Christmas.

How to keep COVID safe this Christmas if you are seeing family

This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078


With the announcement that up to 3 households will be able to mix in December, itís essential to keep our families safe. While this year may not look like the Christmases weíre used to, with some forward planning and careful action, it can still be an enjoyable day. In our article below, weíll look at what you can and canít do, as well as some top tips to ensure you stay healthy.

What are the rules?

Between the 23rd and the 27th of December, three households will be allowed to create a temporary Christmas bubble. They will be allowed to mix in each otherís homes, at a place of worship, and in an outdoor public space or garden.

Those in Northern Ireland have a longer window, from the 22nd to the 28th of December, to allow time to travel.

These temporary Christmas bubbles are fixed. This means you can only meet with your 3 chosen households, and they can only meet with you. In England, if you have already formed a support bubble with another household, you count as one household. Therefore, you and your existing support bubble will be able to meet with two other households.

There is no limit on the number of people in each household joining the bubble.

People who are self-isolating shouldnít join a Christmas bubble. Also, if someone tests positive or develops symptoms up to 48 hours after the bubble last met, everyone must self-isolate.

You can travel anywhere in the UK to meet with your Christmas bubble, no matter what tier system is in your local area, or theirs. However, the government has warned that there will be no extra public transport over the festive period.

You and your bubble arenít allowed to go to hospitality venues, like pubs or restaurants. You also canít go to entertainment venues.

You can meet people outside of the Christmas bubble, but only outdoors and in line with the tier rules of the area youíre staying in. Places you can meet include parks, beaches, open countryside, public gardens, allotments, and playgrounds.

You might choose to form a different Christmas bubble from the people you normally live with. If you do, you should take additional steps to prevent the transmission risk in your household and between your bubbles. These steps might include staying with a member of your Christmas bubble between the 23rd and 27th of December rather than at home, taking extra precautions like cleaning surfaces and contact points like door handles, and letting as much fresh air into your home as possible after someone has visited.

What about New Yearís Eve?

These newly relaxed restrictions will not extend to New Yearís Eve.

How to keep the virus at bay

When you are meeting with your Christmas bubble, traditional activities can be ideal for spreading the virus. The tips below will help to ensure you donít become unwell.

Limit the numbers

Although the official guidance doesnít limit the number of people meeting indoors, the evidence is clear. The larger the group of people, the higher the risk of transmission. A study by Sage, the science panel which advises the government, has shown that doubling the number of people getting together means youíre 4 times more likely to get infected. [1] Similarly, the fewer different households mixing, the better.

When sitting down to eat, try to avoid people from different households sitting opposite each other, as speaking face to face is a route of transmission.

Be sensible

Donít forget all of the good habits youíve learned this year. Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If this isnít possible, use a hand sanitiser that is at least 60% alcohol.

Try to maintain a social distance as much as possible and wear a mask when youíre not eating or drinking. When you are eating or drinking, plan where you can store your mask, like in a dry, breathable bag.

Try not to touch things that you donít need to and use touchless bins if possible.

Avoid sharing food and drink

While passing around dishes and bottles may seem like a Christmas tradition, it should be avoided this year. Coronavirus can live on surfaces for significant amounts of time, meaning cutlery and plates can become contaminated. Everyone thoroughly washing their hands before sitting down to eat is more important than ever this year.

During Thanksgiving in the USA, the official advice was to break with tradition and ask guests to bring their own food and drink. However, you should avoid gatherings where each person is bringing a dish for everyone to share.

Wear a mask when preparing food, limit the people going in and out of food preparation areas, and have one person, who is wearing a mask, serve all plates, utensils, food, and condiments. Every person involved with preparing and serving should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.

Immediately following the gathering, change and wash all linen items. You should also immediately wash dishes in a dishwasher or with hot soapy water.

Try not to sing or shout indoors

Studies have shown that when voices are projected, people emit more of the tiny droplets that can carry coronavirus. [2]

Try to avoid shouting and singing in groups, especially when indoors. Keep the music turned down so people arenít encouraged to raise their voices over it, or to sing along. This may seem a little farfetched, but the science behind it really makes sense.

Plan a quick visit

Researchers say that an eventís duration has a big impact on the risk of infection at that event. Tiny droplets that carry the virus can accumulate in the air, especially in a poorly ventilated space.

Breathing in these droplets might be one of the ways that people can get infected.

One super spreader event in March 2020 was a choir rehearsal. During this 2 Ĺ hour event, more than 50 people were confirmed or suspected of being infected. Scientists have said that if the event lasted less than an hour, the number of infections would have been reduced by more than half. [3]

Encourage ventilation

While the cold weather makes this a less than inviting suggestion, try to keep a window open to have fresh air flowing in from outside. This will help to dilute any virus particles lingering in a crowded room. A Sage report has shown that infection risk in a poorly ventilated room can be 4 times higher than a room with proper ventilation. [1]

Should we meet up?

Even with the above tips, you still run the risk of catching the virus when you meet with large groups of people. You might want to consider dreaming up a creative new option to mark the festive season. For example, you could meet your family virtually on a video call, go for a walk, wrap up warm for a picnic, or even wait until next year.



[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/928720/S0789_EMG_Role_of_Ventilation_in_Controlling_SARS-CoV-2_Transmission.pdf

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6382806/

[3] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ina.12751