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Elbow bumps and open windows: UK scientific advisers' Christmas tips

Clea Skopeliti
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

With Christmas less than a month away, the government’s scientific advisers have issued a list of recommendations for families mixing during the break after a five-day period of relaxed rules was announced earlier this week.

The festive easing of restrictions will allow families across the UK to gather in three-household groups of any size between 23 and 27 December. People heading to and from Northern Ireland will be granted an extra day on either side of the Christmas window.

In response to the government giving the green light for a more normal holiday, scientific advisers have suggested a series of tips for a less risky celebration, ranging from the toughest approach – virtual turkey carvings and posting presents – to less stringent tweaks, such as avoiding singalongs.

Postpone Christmas, have it over Zoom, or head outside

The safest route is undeniably not meeting in person, and either postponing the celebration or holding it virtually instead. For those opposed to the idea of having their Christmas dinner over video conference, Sage suggests heading outdoors, whether for a walk or a socially distanced drink. Although the wintry temperatures may pose a challenge, the virus is far less likely to be transmitted in an outdoor setting and it is recommended that children avoid meeting elderly relatives indoors.

Limit the time spent together

Although the government has allowed five days for Christmas bubbles to mix indoors, Sage’s guidance suggests people mitigate the risks by limiting the length of time they spend with loved ones outside their household. The recommendations state that indoor interactions “should be restricted as much as possible and reserved for short duration quality time”. Overnight stays should be limited where possible, and if not, people from different households should avoid sharing rooms.

Cut down on your number of guests

Similarly, although the government has said up to three households of any size can mix, the scientists urge people to reconsider how many visitors they include in their bubble.

Socially distant Christmas

Alongside avoiding hosting a large number of visitors, people are advised to gather “in the largest space that is feasible”. Sage recommends furniture is spaced out where possible, with different households sitting a distance apart and seating members of the same household opposite each other. Where distancing is not possible, consider wearing face masks to avoid droplet transmission.

Related: Christmas gatherings could wipe out Covid gains, UK experts warn

Elbow bump and air greet

Hugs and kisses should be avoided, with “elbow bumps” being Sage’s preferred method of greeting. Physical contact should at least be limited, with experts asking people to face away and wash their hands afterwards. Avoiding physical contact with vulnerable loved ones is particularly important: earlier this week, England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said people should not hug or kiss elderly relatives “if you want them to survive to be hugged again”.

Prioritise hygiene

People should keep hand sanitiser at the ready, with hand washing particularly important (as ever) before eating or preparing a meal. Disinfectant wipes or sanitisers should also be provided at gatherings, as well as bins to throw away any used tissues.

Open windows regularly

For those not braving December weather for a fully outdoor celebration, it is recommended that homes are kept well ventilated: the virus is far less likely to spread in an airy space. Sage suggests opening windows for between 10 and 15 minutes every hour, while extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms can also help. In the case of sleepovers, bedroom doors should be shut and the window left ajar if possible to limit airflow between the rooms.

Rethink your entertainment options

People are asked to avoid games that involve touching a lot of shared objects and sitting closely together, suggesting quiz-based games as one option for families ditching the Monopoly board this year. Christmas singalongs are another high-risk activity that should be given a miss – especially in spaces with poor ventilation – while dancing can be dangerous because of higher breathing rates.