Christmas, Imperial College, New Year, Mental Health, Coronavirus, Coronavirus Lockdown

Christmas, Imperial College

Everything you need to know about how safe it is to visit family this Christmas

Everything you need to know about how safe it is to visit family this Christmas

11/24/2020 12:02:00 PM

Everything you need to know about how safe it is to visit family this Christmas

Dr Mike Tildesley, an expert in infection modelling at Warwick University, and Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London explain the risks involved with relaxing lockdown over the festive period

Downing Street is set to announce whether strict restrictions will be paused for five days, allowing up to three households to come together for the Christmas period.But as families are torn about the risks for their elderly relatives, scientists are also divided on whether the festive easing of Covid rules is a good idea.

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Here, Dr Mike Tildesley, an expert in infection modelling at Warwick University, and Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, explain their different views.Should Covid restrictions be eased for five days during Christmas? Dr Tildesley supports a festive pause of restrictions.

“We need to think about people’s well-being and mental health, and allow families to be together at Christmas,” he says.“But to do that we need to have strict rules in place in the run-up to and after Christmas so we can mitigate for that.“Most importantly, if three or four households are allowed to be together, those households need to be exclusive. You can’t go to meet your mates down the pub then go home to see your granny and all these family members.” headtopics.com

But Prof Majeed says tiered restrictions that will replace the lockdown shouldn’t be lifted.“My view is that the restrictions should remain in place through the Christmas and New Year period, based on the local community infection rate. Easing the restrictions too quickly risks undoing all the gains we have made during the lockdown.

Could allowing mixing of households actually mean people will die as a result? It’s a risk that can be mitigated, believes Dr Tildesley.“Any increase in mixing is going to cause more cases, and ultimately, hospitalisations and deaths. But if we tighten restrictions in the run-up to Christmas, then hopefully we can keep the risk of that extra mixing as low as possible”

Prof Majeed believes that allowing households to mix will “inevitably lead to an increase in infections, which would be very serious for the vulnerable people who are at greatest risk of serious illness and death if they contract Covid-19.“Most person to person transmission of Covid-19 infection occurs within households.”

Won’t locking down during January make up for the Christmas easing? Dr Tildesley believes it’s more important to impose tighter restrictions before Christmas.He says: “You want to minimise the risk of your elderly relatives becoming infected, so you want incidence to be as low as possible on December 22. headtopics.com

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"I think we need a tightening up of mixing between households in the three weeks before Christmas, which would mean tougher rules than the previous Tier 1 everywhere.”Prof Majeed is skeptical about lifting restrictions: “We need sustainable measures to control Covid-19 rather than “stop-start” measures.”

If strict rules stay in place during Christmas, what’s the risk many will ignore them and infections could rise even more? Dr Tildesley says that’s why we should ease the restrictions.“If you have very tight restrictions in place, then people may disobey them in large numbers. But if you have some relaxation of the rules, along with a very clear message, you will get a relatively high level of adherence.

“Hopefully most people will be willing to accept the idea that they can mix with three or four households in their family group and minimise all other contacts. Then we can keep the risk as low as possible.”Prof Majeed believes that while the majority will be sensible, “there is a risk that some people won’t follow the rules.”

He adds: “With positive news about developments in vaccines, we may be able to live much more normally from around Easter onwards. It’s important we retain our discipline and follow rules for these next few months.”Should churches be allowed to open for Christmas services? Yes, as long as they are Covid-secure, says Dr Tildesley. headtopics.com

“There’s always going to be an increase in risk, but Christmas shopping is also a risk - the question is how much of an increase are you prepared to accept, and what are you going to do to minimise the risk,” he says.Prof Majeed believes churches in high infection areas should remain shut.

“Any indoor mixing poses risks and activities such as singing in indoor spaces have been shown to lead to increased risks of infection."It may be possible to open churches in some parts of England where local infection rates are low and where good infection control measures are followed.”

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Won’t elderly people be getting vaccinated before Christmas anyway? Dr Tildesley points out: “We are still some way away, and it’s not confirmed that elderly people will be vaccinated before Christmas."But even if they are, they will need two doses, two to three weeks apart, and it will take a few weeks after that second dose before you have a high level of immunity. Even if it starts in December, that takes us well into January before people will have immunity.”

Prof Majeed says people shouldn’t use an imminent vaccine as an excuse to let their guard down over Christmas.He said: “We won’t have enough doses of the vaccines to have a major impact on the pandemic in 2020. It’s only when a large proportion of people have been immunised will we see the effect and this is likely to take a few months to achieve.”

Even if they allow us to have a big family Christmas, should we? Dr Tildesley says we should “do what you can to be together and prevent loneliness”.But he adds: “People just need to be aware of the risks and take sensible precautions. Just because the rule might say three or four households can meet, it doesn’t mean that number of households have to mix.”

Prof Majeed says: “I would be cautious about large, indoor Christmas events – particularly if you have elderly relatives or relatives with serious medical problems.”I want my whole family together at Christmas. If we self-isolate for two weeks before, and take my children out of school early, will it reduce the risk? “Isolating for a few weeks before Christmas is sensible if you can”, says Dr Tildesley.

“I would never advocate taking children out of school unless you have to, but if there’s a particularly vulnerable relative people should do what they can to minimise the risk.”Prof Majeed says: “Actions to reduce the risk indoors include avoiding overcrowding so that physical distancing can be maintained, ensuring that ventilation is good as the risk of infection is much higher in poorly ventilated spaces, and practising good hygiene, such as regular handwashing.”

Should we still get together for Christmas if the households have to travel from different parts of the UK to meet up? Yes, if it means someone won’t be lonely at Christmas, says Dr Tildesley.“Again, do what you can to minimise the risk. Go by private car rather than by public transport, you should be able to get there pretty safely.”

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