'How to prepare for Christmas...while still in a pandemic'

Column

Friday, 11th December 2020, 12:45 pm
Updated Friday, 11th December 2020, 12:48 pm
Lucy Wightman, director of health for Public Health Northamptonshire

Turkey? Ordered. Tree? Decorated. Presents? What presents? Are we still doing presents? Oh dear, let’s hope Father Christmas can sort…Christmas lists are no different to all ‘to do’ lists…never-ending…but this year there’s a couple of extra things I’m asking people to do in preparation for a merry Christmas.

As everyone will know, between December 23-27 there will be a government relaxation of restrictions on socialising. We will be ‘allowed’ to form a “Christmas bubble” of friends and family from up to three households. Those in the same bubble can meet in one of their homes, outdoor public spaces or places of worship.

People meeting in outdoor public spaces does not concern me as long as the usual caution is applied, but if you are choosing to mix with friends and family indoors then there are a number of things I recommend you do to protect each other. If anyone in your Christmas Bubble is over the age of 60, and therefore at greater risk of severe disease or death from coronavirus, you need to be especially careful in the run up to the relaxation.

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I know most are adhering to the current Tier 2 restrictions locally, but if you want to make sure you reduce the risk of giving people Coronavirus for Christmas, then you should strictly limit your contact with others wherever possible 14 days before the dates you will be in your bubble. Working from home wherever possible and shopping online will help reduce the likelihood of you contract, and sharing, the virus. For a while now my mantra has been ‘just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should’ and this applies more than ever over this Christmas period. If you must mix indoors, which is the biggest single factor in transmission, then it is paramount that you strictly practice COVID safe behaviours. Open the windows, keep your distance, wash your hands, do not share platters of food and bring your own cutlery and take it home with you.

My friends will tell you that I love a party as much as the next person but it is my civic and legal duty to preserve life and the coronavirus will not know it is Christmas. Data shows that 946 residents have tested positive with COVID-19 since last week’s data was published and although case numbers have decreased over the last two weeks, they have only just returned to rates similar to those pre-lockdown and remain much higher than in late summer. Too many people locally are still losing their lives to COVID-19 in Northamptonshire and our NHS services remain over-stretched. We simply cannot risk another spike in cases in the New Year – I’m sure you’ll agree going into Tier 3 is not the way any of us would want to start 2021!

Therefore during the run up to Christmas I am urging you to continue to protect yourselves and each other now lockdown has lifted. Reports from our Environmental Health Officers over the weekend were concerning. They witnessed some irresponsible mixing in pubs and in smoking shelters across the county. Simple hand washing, social distancing and face covering are all extremely effective measures and must be maintained as we continue the fight.

I’m also urging residents aged between 50 and 64 are being to book their flu jabs now and protect their immune system. The jab will not only protect from the potentially serious consequences of catching flu but also help to keep pressure off the NHS at a time when it is under enormous pressure because of COVID-19.

With caution, care homes are being sent lateral flow tests later this month to enable visiting, however we must all take responsibility for the welfare of our loved ones and their fellow residents. The tests are not 100 per cent accurate so caution must be applied and all visitors must still use PPE and ideally maintain social distancing. The elderly are much more likely to suffer severe illness and die from COVID-19 and if we visit them we must ensure we are not putting them at increased risk.

On a lighter note, have you heard that Northamptonshire County Council has launched a children’s Christmas tree colouring contest to brighten up windows and homes across Northants? The campaign aims to bring some holiday cheer to a different festive season, and encourage children to stay indoors and get creative. To enter the contest, send a picture of your creative tree in your window to the Northamptonshire County Council Facebook, Twitter or Instagram inbox using the hashtag #NorthantsTogether before Friday December 18.