WITH the ghost of our Christmas past hanging over us, no wonder we’re all desperate for festivity this year.
But many fear the Omicron Covid variant means plans may not be straightforward.
Here, we answer key questions to help ensure everyone, from grans to kids, has a Covid-safe Christmas[/caption]
Early findings suggest existing vaccines should work. But masks are again mandatory in shops and on public transport — prompting fears of tougher steps to come.
In the last week, I have been flooded with reader questions about how to stay safe at Christmas.
The good news is, a few simple steps and honest chats mean we can all get round the dinner table safely.
Here I answer key questions to help ensure everyone, from grans to kids, has a Covid-safe Christmas.
A few simple steps and honest chats mean we can all get round the dinner table safely, says Dr Zoe[/caption]
Q) IS it OK to ask my guests to take a lateral flow test the day before they come?
A) Absolutely. You are family and it’s as much about keeping them safe as youreself. If you feel uncomfortable, think about how you would all feel catching Covid. It’s reasonable and something millions of students, NHS workers and teachers do weekly. Why not all do it on Zoom for some moral support?
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Q) I KNOW vaccination is a touchy subject. How do I ask if guests have had jabs and boosters?
A) Lots of people will insist their vaccination status is private. While I agree to an extent, elderly or vulnerable relatives’ safety trumps the right for privacy here. And it’s not just Covid to consider. If you’ve been invited for a flu jab and not had it yet, ensure you do that too before seeing loved ones. Vaccines protect everyone, so ensuring you’ve had your jabs is a Christmas gift you can all share.
Q) HOW can I keep vulnerable guests safe?
A) Whether it’s a grandma, or an immuno-compromised relative, sit them by a window, with a blanket or heater if need be, and give them their own bathroom if you have a spare. Air purifiers remove virus particles from the air and start at around £20. Try to space out chairs and ask everyone to wash their hands on arrival.
Q) I WANT to have friends over on December 23 but my vulnerable parents are due the next day. How can I keep them safe?
A) Why not party outside? A fire pit or garden heater may help. Stock up on hand warmers, too, and get blankets out. Dust off the garden furniture, add cushions, pop some candles in glasses and you’re sorted. Maybe serve up some mulled cider and jacket potatoes.
Q) IS it rude for me to sit any unvaccinated guests together?
A) No. Studies have shown people who are vaccinated are less likely to transmit Covid than those who are not. That’s not to say you need to ostracise anyone. The best thing you can do is have an open, non-judgmental chat about how you feel and what your plan is, way ahead of time.
Q) SHOULD I pull my kids out of school to isolate before they see their grandparents?
A) No, secondary school kids should be taking twice-weekly lateral flow tests anyway. If you’re worried, get all the kids to take lateral flow tests before seeing the grandparents.
Q) WHEN we’re told “don’t socialise unless it’s needed”, what does that mean? And should we all be working from home?
A) Current advice doesn’t stipulate working from home so unless your employer has said otherwise, it’s personal preference. The “social-ising rule” is open to interpretation. For some, that might mean deciding not to go to the work Christmas party. For others it might mean taking hand sanitiser and wearing a mask. If you’re fit and healthy and your vaccines are up to date, the risk could be minimal. If you’re clinically vulnerable, immuno-suppressed or haven’t had your jabs, you will want to think twice.
Q) I’M pregnant. Should I be self-isolating in the run-up to Christmas, just in case?
A) There’s evidence the vaccines are safe for pregnant women so hopefully you’ll be double-jabbed by now. Self-isolating comes with its own risks, from anxiety to loneliness. If you’re jabbed and take precautions, there’s no reason to self-isolate.
Q) SHOULD I be testing myself and my family every few days?
A) The government advice is to take lateral flow tests on days you are more likely to catch or spread Covid. such as if you are due to mix with people in a crowded indoor place. Remember, though, these tests are there to catch asymptomatic (non-obvious) cases of Covid. If you have a symptom — a lasting cough, loss of taste or smell or a high temperature — or if you have been pinged by the NHS app, book a free PCR test.
Q) SHOULD guests get a PRC test before visiting?
A) Don’t book a family trip to the test centre unless one or more of you have symptoms — but lateral flow tests on the morning before you all get together would be a good idea to help keep you all safe.
Q) I DON’T want to feel ill over Christmas. Should I just wait for my booster?
A) No, please don’t wait to get your booster. There’s an increased risk of catching Covid the longer you delay, so make an appointment.
Q) SHOULD I still go and see my 90-year-old nan if she’s had her booster shot?
A) This comes down to individual choice. Have a chat before you visit. If your nan hasn’t had any visitors for a while, she will want to see you but might not want to take the risk of falling ill. Similarly with hugs, she might want one or might rather you kept your distance. If visiting someone vulnerable with their consent, wear a mask, sanitise and wash hands, open windows or use an air purifier if you have one, and keep your distance. Air purifiers remove virus particles from the atmosphere and cost from £20.
Q) I DON’T really want my booster, after having bad side-effects from the first two jabs.
A) Most people who get vaccinated don’t experience any side effects. If they do, the effects are generally mild and gone within 48 hours. Vaccines are to keep other people safe as much as yourself — vaccinated people transmit the virus less than the unvaccinated. So if you’re not keen on getting your booster, think about how you’d feel if you passed on Covid to someone vulnerable.
Q) WHAT precautions should I take before going to Christmas events?
A) Take a lateral flow test on the day of the event and wear a mask if on public transport. If you’re having a party at yours, try to keep the windows open — dancing in your coat is a small price to pay — and invest in an air purifier.
Q) IF I have my booster near to Christmas, can I still have a festive tipple?
A) Absolutely. There’s nothing that says you can’t. But do remember, everything in moderation.
Q) WHAT should I ask my family to do before they arrive for Christmas?
A) Request that they take lateral flow tests the day before or on the morning of arrival. If they are frontline workers, ensure they’re coming in clean clothes — not what they wore last shift. Ask everyone to wash hands on arrival and if anyone has symptoms that could be Covid, asking them to stay at home is the right thing to do — until they have a negative PCR result.
Q) IF it’s too cold to keep the windows open, what can we do instead to stay safe inside?
A) Hospitals are using portable air filters and studies have found they work in reducing transmission of Covid.
Q) DO the vaccines protect me against Covid transmission? Or just lessen the likelihood of a severe case?
A) Both. Studies have found you’re anywhere between 60 and 70 per cent less likely to transmit the virus if vaccinated than if not, so vaccinations will help keep you and your loved ones safe.
Q) I’D planned to travel to see my family in Spain this Christmas. Is it still safe to do so?
A) There is some risk associated with travel, especially if it requires travelling in an aircraft, which is an enclosed space with lots of people. Decisions around travel can only be made by the traveller and require balancing risk with your reasons for travel. I travelled to Spain a month ago and felt relatively safe but then I did get pinged on my return. If your choice is between a lonely Christmas on your own and travelling to see family, it’s worth taking your mental health into account too.
Q) MY brother wants to bring his dogs to my house for Christmas. Can I get Covid from them? Or can pets get the variant?
A) There’s limited evidence pets can pass on Covid. It has happened but not frequently. On the other hand, dogs and pets are “surfaces” so if someone with Covid strokes a pet and you stroke the pet afterwards there’s a risk they could pass on the virus.
Q) MY cousin won’t wear a mask and she’s supposed to be coming for Christmas. Does it put us at risk?
A) Will you and the other guests be wearing masks at Christ- mas? Mask-wearing predominantly protects other people from getting the virus from the wearer, hence why mask refusal is deemed selfish except in the cases of individuals who are exempt.
Q) I HAD Covid and was pretty ill with it. Can I catch it again? And will the new variant be worse this time round?
A) It is possible to catch Covid twice, though this is uncommon — so far. When you are infected by the virus, your body will normally develop antibodies which give protection if you come into contact with it again in the future. We don’t know for certain how long the antibodies last, and in some cases there is a lack of sufficient antibody protection. That’s why it’s important to still have the full course of vaccinations for optimal protection.
Q) I WANT to cancel having my family for Christmas because a lot of them are frontline workers and I’m worried about catching it. Is that a good idea?
A) One of the most significant side effects of the pandemic has been loneliness and mental health issues. Isolating ourselves for so long really took its toll on a lot of people. So do ask yourself how you might feel about not seeing your loved ones again this Christmas. There are some precautions you can all take but if you are still feeling concerned, maybe suggest sharing just a nice country walk with some mulled wine.
Q) WHAT happens if I get pinged by Test and Trace close to Christmas?
A) Close to Christmas is exactly the same as any other time of year, should this happen. You just need to order a PCR test. If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to isolate while awaiting the test result. If not fully vaccinated, you must isolate. If the result is negative, you can carry on as normal. But a positive test requires staying at home, even if that means missing out on festivities.
Q) MY sister has Long Covid. Should she stay away from us this Christmas to keep safe?
A) This will depend on the details of her particular case as well as her own preferences, but generally Long Covid does not require a person to take additional isolation precautions.
If pinged by Test and Trace and if not fully vaccinated, you must isolate until you get your PCR test results back[/caption]
Don’t wait until after Christmas to get your booster, make an appointment as soon as you can[/caption]
Don’t be afraid to ask all your guests and family members to take a lateral flow test the day before meeting[/caption]
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