The World Health Organisation (WHO) has pleaded with families to wear face masks and socially distance at Christmas get-togethers to cut the risk of spreading coronavirus in January. The UN agency said the measures would ‘contribute significantly’ to saving lives and preventing loved ones from getting sick but admitted they ‘may feel awkward’.
In updated guidance published today, the WHO warned that Europe was teetering on the brink of a third wave of coronavirus (COVID-19), which could peak in the first weeks of the new year. The body said that mixing over Christmas could exacerbate the virus’ spread and make the January peak more deadly.
The new guidance says: ‘Indoor gatherings, even smaller ones, can be especially risky because they bring together groups of people, young and old, from different households, who may not all be adhering to the same infection prevention measures. ‘Gatherings should be held outside if possible, and participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing. If held indoors, limiting group size and ensuring good ventilation to reduce exposure risk are key.
‘It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise distancing when around friends and family but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy. Vulnerable people and older friends or relatives may find it very difficult to ask loved ones to stay away physically.’ It comes as Boris Johnson’s plan for UK-wide lockdown-free Christmas was thrown into disarray today as Scotland and Wales ordered tighter restrictions.
Mr Johnson said the move to allow three different households to mix indoors between December 23 and 27 remained in place, despite urging everyone to ‘exercise extreme caution in the way we celebrate’. But Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has issued advice that only two households should come together to ‘form an exclusive Christmas bubble’.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon said gatherings should only happen on one day, people should not stay overnight unless ‘unavoidable’, and pleaded with Scots who have not already organised a bubble to avoid doing so. In the advice published this morning, the WHO warned the transmission of the virus remained ‘widespread and intense’ in Europe.
‘There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021,’ they said. ‘And we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it.’ They also warned communities to postpone festive and religious celebrations or reduce the number of people able to attend.
They added that these should be held outside where possible, regardless of location. Officials also advised those who are travelling this Christmas to ‘avoid crowds’ and follow the guidance from authorities. The guidance on mask-wearing comes despite the WHO’s Covid-19 Guidance Development Group (GDG) finding there was ‘limited evidence’ masks halted the disease from spreading in a report earlier this month.
A study by scientists in Denmark also found they offer ‘no protection’ to people who wear them, but the research did not rule out the possibility that they protect others. Meanwhile, the UK was facing Christmas chaos today as Boris Johnson insisted families will not be ‘criminalised’ for celebrating in bubbles – but Scotland and Wales ordered tighter restrictions.
The latest round of talks on Christmas plans between Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford of Wales and Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster took place this morning. But although they appear to have agreed that the legal framework should stay, the guidance looks dramatically different – posing serious problems for families.
No10 had been braced for Scotland to take a tougher line, after Ms Sturgeon said that she would not hesitate to break ranks – suggesting the length of the relaxation and the three-household limit might need to be reduced. In England, there will be ‘tough’ warnings to think twice before celebrating Christmas with elderly or vulnerable relatives, with an advertising campaign set to be launched.
The Government’s Christmas travel tsar Sir Peter Hendy told the Transport Select Committee this morning that people should ‘be careful’, ‘stay local’, and ‘book public transport early’. But he suggested that three-quarters of the public are not intending to travel and predicted there will not be nightmare scenes.
At her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon urged Scots to stay in their own homes if they can, rather than visiting relatives. She said those who have yet to fix a bubble to be in, should not form one now. In her daily briefing she said: ‘The safest way to spend Christmas this year for you and those you love is to stay in your own household and your own home.
‘My strong recommendation is that this is what you should do if at all possible. ‘Any interaction you do have with another household should if at all possible be outdoors, but if you do consider it essential indoors with someone from another household you should limit both the duration and numbers as much as possible.
‘The five-day relaxation is a window of opportunity during which you can meet, it is not a period that we think it is safe or sensible to get together for. You should see it as a maximum, not a target. ‘My recommendation is that if you do form a bubble you should not meet up with people in it any more than on one day over that period, if possible, and you should not stay overnight unless it is unavoidable.
‘You should also limit numbers as far as possible, three households is a maximum that tries to account for the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes, but two would be better. ‘In short if you have to form a bubble keep it as small as possible.’ Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Government briefing: ‘Here in Wales, the position is that only two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble during the five-day period.
‘The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus. ‘None of us wants to be ill this Christmas. And we don’t want to give coronavirus to our close family or friends. ‘The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has provided special advice for people who were previously shielding about mixing over Christmas.’
Two leading medical journals had warned keeping to the five-day plan was a ‘major error that will cost many lives’. But ministers decided it would be unfair to penalise the whole country because of concerns about surging cases in London and the South East.
And there were warnings that any attempt to ban Christmas would be impossible to enforce, with police chiefs already warning officers would not get involved in ‘policing people’s Christmas dinners’.
Culled from Mailonline