Staying safe this Christmas in the midst of an Omicron Covid-19 wave

The number of Covid-19 cases in the UK has increased in recent weeks to an average of around 50,000 per day. The number of cases caused by the Omicron variant, although currently small, is doubling about every three days. If this increase continues, Omicron will replace Delta as the most common variant of the Coronavirus in the UK within a few weeks. This is concerning because it looks like our current vaccines may be less effective against the Omicron variant than against the Delta variant. The good news though is that three doses of a vaccine (the first two doses followed by a booster dose) should continue to provide good protection from serious illness, even if current Covid-19 vaccines are a little less effective against Omicron. To help counter the threat from Omicron and limit the pressures on the NHS, the government is introducing new measures in England to reduce the risk of infection. As well as following the new rules, you should also ensure you are fully vaccinated – including receiving a booster vaccine – and use lateral flow test before attending events or meeting others from outside your household. Some people with weak immune systems will need four vaccinations before they are fully vaccinated. And remember that if at any point you develop symptoms of a possible Covid-19 infection, get a PCR test and isolate until you get the result of the test.

I’m having my family over for Christmas dinner, but some of them are unvaccinated. What should I do?

People who are unvaccinated are more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and transmit infection to others. If you have vulnerable family members – such as elderly relatives – joining you for your Christmas dinner, my advice would be for your unvaccinated relatives not to attend. If they do attend, you should aim to reduce the risk of infection by asking them to carry out a lateral flow test before they visit. You should also improve the ventilation in your house as this will also reduce the risk of infection.

My elderly mother missed Christmas last year. Can she come round this year?

People from different households can mix indoors this year, so your mother can come round. Ideally, everyone eligible for a vaccine who is present should be fully vaccinated (including boosters) and take a lateral flow event before your mother arrives. Children under 12 are not currently eligible for a vaccine. They should also take a lateral flow test as there is currently a high Covid-19 infection rate in children.

I’ve booked to go with my family of four to a West End musical over Christmas. Can we still go?

Theatres remain open. You will be required to wear a mask whilst in the theatre. Currently, a COVID pass is not needed for entry to a theatre but it is a good idea for everyone to carry out a lateral flow test before leaving home for the theatre.

My work is throwing a big Christmas party for all 50 employees. Will it still go ahead, and if so, will it be safe to go?

Christmas parties can still go ahead but many employers are cancelling them because of the risk of infection in crowded, indoor settings; particularly where ventilation is poor. A COVID pass is not required for entry to the party but if the event does go ahead, ideally, everyone attending should ideally be fully vaccinated and take a lateral flow test before the event. If you are clinically vulnerable through age or a medical condition, or live with someone who is clinically vulnerable, my advice would be not to attend the event even if fully vaccinated because of the risks from a breakthrough infection.

My department is planning a Christmas lunch with around 15 people. Is that still allowed? What precautions should we take?

Christmas lunches organised by employers can go ahead. Everyone attending should aim to be fully vaccinated and take a lateral flow test before the event. People who are clinically vulnerable – or live with someone who is clinically vulnerable – should consider missing the event.

Will my kids’ school Christmas play still be allowed to happen, and if so, what extra restrictions might there be?

School Christmas plays can go ahead. However, many schools are limiting the number of people who can join the event, meaning that parents may not be able to attend. If you are allowed to attend, you should wear a face mask and take lateral flow test before attending. Ensure that you are also fully vaccinated.

What precautions should I take when I go Christmas shopping?

Wear a face mask whilst indoors and on public transport. An FFP2 mask provides greater protection and many public health specialists advise the use of these rather than standard surgical masks. Wash your hands or use had sanitiser before and after leaving shops.

Is it safe for my children to have friends around to play over the Christmas holidays?

Children can have their friends round. A lateral flow test for everyone can help in reducing the risk of infection. Ventilation can also help reduce infection risk. Younger children (under 12) are not currently eligible for a Covid-19 vaccination.

What will happen to the Christmas Eve midnight mass we all normally go to?

Religious events can still go ahead and are exempt from the from requirements to use the NHS COVID Pass. A face mask will be required whilst indoors in the church. To reduce the risk of infection further, everyone attending should be fully vaccinated and take a lateral flow test before attending.

Will me and my mates still be able to have our traditional festive drinks evening at the pub?

You can still have your festive drinks with your friends. As the venue is likely to have less than 500 people, the NHS Covid Pass in not needed to enter. A face mask is not required either. You should remember however that indoor events like this carry a risk of infection because the venue may be crowded and social distancing will not be possible. Ensure you are fully vaccinated and use a lateral flow test before the drinks event.

A version of this article was first published in the Daily Mirror.