It’s been a tough year learning to live with and keep safe from coronavirus, and while there’s now fresh hope of an end to the pandemic, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Among the hardest hit have been older people and those with underlying health conditions which put them more at risk of serious complications if they catch the virus. People in these ‘at risk’ groups have spent months isolating or even shielding, staying safe at home and relying on others for help with things like shopping or getting medicines.
With the first vaccinations now under way, an end could be in sight, but scientists and medics warn it’s too early to become complacent, to let our guard down and go ‘back to normal’. Coronavirus might have its days numbered, but it could still bite!
Hopes that “it’ll all be over by Christmas” have been dashed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of the Yuletide holiday period which traditionally brings families together. Things will have to be different this Christmas, but it should still be possible to celebrate and stay safe.
A five-day window of special Christmas restrictions will be in force across the UK. It’s designed to help families celebrate together while minimising the risk of spreading the virus. Between Wednesday December 23rd and Sunday the 27th (22nd to 28th in Northern Ireland) there will be no travel restrictions and limited numbers of people will be allowed to mix indoors and stay overnight.
The number of people who can mix together is limited to “Christmas bubbles” which can include a maximum of three households in most of the UK, or up to eight people in Scotland. These ‘three-household bubbles’ must be fixed throughout the Christmas period. In other words, you can’t mix with two other households on Christmas Day, then two different other households on Boxing day.
These bubbles can also meet in outdoor public spaces or places of worship during the allotted period, as well as in one another’s homes. Other restrictions will remain in place depending on what tier you’re living in. For example, in tier 3 (with the strictest restrictions) restaurants and pubs will have to stay closed except for delivery and takeaway, and most entertainment venues will be closed.
Although the ‘Christmas bubble’ arrangements allow for more mixing within a limited number of people, you shouldn’t feel you have to if you’re not comfortable doing it. Health experts are advising people – especially those at greater risk – to think very carefully about who they might mix with and how they’ll do it. If you don’t want to mix at all, you’re not being a Scrooge, but just taking sensible steps to safeguard your health.
For those at extreme or serious risk from the virus, the advice is to remain shielded from it and avoid mixing with anyone outside your own household. Having spent so many months safeguarding your health, it would be foolhardy to risk it all now just because it’s Christmas. The virus is still out there – it won’t be taking time off over the holidays.
In any case, there are other ways to keep in touch without compromising your safety. Many people have developed new computer skills during this year, learning to communicate through online platforms such as Zoom and Skype. Alternatively, smartphones allow for face-to-face video calls, or you could just pass on your Christmas wishes to friends and family using an ordinary telephone, or by text, email or in a Christmas card.
Loved ones could still visit on Christmas Day, or any day during the holidays, without actually coming into your home and mixing. A socially distant visit – calling out your Christmas wishes from the end of the driveway or street or waving though the window – isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing and won’t put your wellbeing at risk.
We’ll all have to keep our guard up against coronavirus for a few months to come, maybe even into next Summer. But it’s better to take sensible precautions this Christmas so that we can all get together and enjoy a happier, safer and more traditional family Christmas next year.