The Christmas bubble easing of restrictions will be going ahead in the UK, government officials have confirmed, despite a rise in Covid-19 cases in some areas and experts warning that relaxing the measures will lead to a third wave.
Many are now faced with a dilemma: do you stay home (better to be safe than sorry), or do you continue with your plans to see the family members you haven’t seen for weeks, months – or even a year?
The Christmas bubble rules specify that people in the UK can form an exclusive bubble made up of people from three households between December 23 and 27. They can meet in homes and gardens, as well as places of worship and outdoor public spaces.
Experts are concerned that allowing people to mix at Christmas could fuel a third wave in January, however some believe if the mixing is done properly and safely, it will be fine – and is better than people being told they can’t do it, then meeting loads of people in an act of defiance.
Ultimately, it’s up to you what you do over the break. But if you do plan on meeting up with loved ones, we’ve asked experts for their top tips on keeping everyone safe.
1. Self-isolate before you meet up
This option isn’t suitable for everyone, but it’s a biggie. If you’re able to self-isolate for 10 days or two weeks before seeing loved ones over Christmas (and they do the same), you are reducing the risk of passing on the virus – and vice versa.
Professor Lucy Yardley, an expert in health psychology at University of Bristol and the University of Southampton, tells HuffPost UK: “That’s a great strategy, for the people that can do that – and then you can both feel really safe.”
Dr Claire Steves, honorary consultant geriatrician from King’s College London, advises paying close attention to what all bubble members can do to reduce their risk of being infected in the week before getting together.
“That means doing shopping online or before-hand and interacting as little as possible especially in the week before,” she says. “Our family are going into a strict lockdown after schools close so we can be pretty certain none of us will infect the grandparents, even if we’re asymptomatic.
“Other families may be particularly high risk, or unable to do this, and will sensibly opt to celebrate together online.”
2. Just because three households can meet, doesn’t mean you should
Remember this: the fewer people from different households you see over Christmas, the lower your risk of catching anything. “I would encourage as limited mixing of households as possible,” says Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton.
Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, a visiting professor at Cambridge University, urges people to think carefully about who they really need to see over Christmas, too. “If we all do our bit, and work hard to minimise the risks of transmission especially to our more elderly loved ones – which could mean not seeing them physically this Christmas – then this will not only help our families, but also the NHS,” he says.
“This virus doesn’t take a Christmas vacation, and the physics of transmission pathways remains the same. We can all help break the transmission paths, and this would probably be the best Christmas present we can give.”
3. Go outdoors – or keep rooms well-ventilated
If you can, get outside when meeting loved ones you don’t live with. Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told a joint meeting of the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee: “We know outside is so much safer than inside, go for a walk, have a meal outside.”
And if you’re going to be inside, keep it well-ventilated – open windows, back doors and make sure there’s plenty of air circulating. Doing this helps reduce the risk of virus collecting and lingering in the air for periods of time.
4. Pick your largest room to socialise in
If you will be socialising indoors, opt for the biggest room you can and move around furniture so households can still keep 2 metres apart.
If you open the windows to that room – but shut the doors to the rest of your home – it can help reduce the amount of heat your home loses, too. Just tell your guests to wrap up warm ahead of time.
5. Limit the amount of time you spend together
Try not to spend too long together, either. The longer you spend together, the more viruses could enter your body. Your best bet would be to figure out what you want to get out of the day in advance – and how long you’d like to spend with loved ones. For example, could you spend a couple of hours in the morning with them opening presents?
“If you spend hours and hours together, especially if you start drinking, then the longer you stay together, not only is the virus likely to be accumulating in the air and on surfaces, but also your guard will be let down and it’s more likely that you’ll start spreading the virus,” says Prof Yardley.
6. Remember: hands, face, space
People should try and keep a distance where possible when meeting up and should ensure they wash their hands regularly with soap for at least 20 seconds.
The use of masks could cause a few raised eyebrows, but they’ve been shown to reduce the spread of droplets expelled from people’s noses and mouths when they talk or breathe. You could even get Christmas-themed ones to make it less weird. They’re a great option if the place you’re meeting isn’t spacious and social distancing is hard to do.
7. Keep surfaces clean as a whistle
If you are having people over, make sure touch points like light switches, door handles, toilet flush buttons, and other regularly touched surfaces (like banisters, for example) are wiped down regularly. Disinfectant is recommended for sending the virus packing.
8. Set rules beforehand and get your family to agree to them
Prof Yardley believes every family member should be made to go through Germ Defence – a project she led that guides you through advice on how to help protect your home from Covid-19 – before agreeing to meet over the Christmas period, so they understand what needs to be done and why.
Then, as a family, they should agree on what they’re going to do to keep each other safe, she suggests. Agreeing it all beforehand means there’s less of a risk that once you get there one person tries to hug another, or someone accidentally sits too near grandma on the sofa.
9. Think differently about traditions this year
Doing a “typical Christmas” where you all get together in one person’s house, but with a bit of extra hand-washing, is actually a “very risky situation”, says Prof Yardley. So we need to think differently.
It might be the norm that you eat together with your guests, or you play board games – but this year we can’t just have a normal Christmas. You might want to forego having people over for Christmas lunch but instead meet up for an after lunch walk in the fresh air, or meet up in the morning to watch each other opening presents before heading back home for your own cooked lunch.
Prof Yardley adds: “Christmas is about showing each other that you care and there is no better way of showing you care than saying: ‘I am absolutely determined that you’re not going to get ill this Christmas.’”