CORK GPs have offered their advice on how best to stay safe in the home during what has been described as “a Christmas like no other”.
Latest restrictions, announced on Tuesday due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases, mean that people will be allowed to have visitors from just one other household from St Stephen’s Day.
No household visits are permitted from January 1, except for essential family reasons such as caring for children, the elderly, or vulnerable people as part of a support bubble.
A total of 938 cases were confirmed yesterday, 110 of which were in Cork.
The 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population in Cork is 86.9 and a total of 472 cases have been recorded in the county in the same period.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) met on Wednesday to review the current epidemiological situation and has made recommendations to the Government.
“Every indicator of the disease is rising — and rising rapidly. Our level of concern continues to escalate. We must do all we can, individually and collectively, to change the course of this disease.
“Revise your Christmas plans to ensure social contacts are limited and that hand hygiene, physical distance, ventilation and face covering measures are in place if you must have visitors to your home,” he said.
Dr Nuala O’Connor of Elmwood Medical Practice in Frankfield, who is also the Covid-19 lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), shared some tips on how best those hosting other households can keep family members and loved ones safe on Christmas Day.
Dr O’Connor suggested the host should act as they though they were in a restaurant — have a sanitising station in place for people to use upon arrival, allow people to wear masks if they wish, avoid staying in one room for a length of time and open windows, have a pump soap and paper towels in the bathroom, and spread out at the dinner table to allow for social distancing from people in other households.
“As the host, you need to act as if you’re in a restaurant. Have a hall table for a hand-sanitising station and people can wear a mask if they want to. People should know where the bathroom is and, inside in the bathroom, get rid of the bar soap and have a pump soap and have paper hand towels or napkins instead of the cloth towel and maybe put a bottle of alcohol gel there as well,” she said.
Dr O’Connor advised people to set the table to allow for social distancing from people in other households and to keep people from the same families together.
“If people want to help in the kitchen, have some of the same family help in the kitchen and keep an older or medically vulnerable person separated from where there is a lot of milling around,” she said.
“People have asked me things like can we get the youngest person to hand out presents from under the tree like other years? Of course they can, but what you do is encourage people to sanitise their hands throughout the day, like at a restaurant where you have alcohol gel at the table.
“People have also asked, can I pull Christmas crackers? Of course you can. As long as you keep your hands away from your face and regularly sanitise. People don’t have to be bringing their own cutlery and their own plate. You just have to be sensible with what you’re doing.
“You don’t have to spend seven or eight hours in the one room, you can go out for a walk, change rooms, and open up the windows for a while. It’s about enjoying that special time with your friends and family, but it’s just a little different this year,” she said.
Dr John Sheehan of Blackpool Bridge Surgery said that people should be “sensible and follow all guidelines”.
“Think of it as if you’re not at home, because if you’re out in another setting, you’re washing your hands, keeping your distance and wearing your mask.
“Be particularly careful of elderly relatives — this maybe isn’t the year to go hugging them, particularly if you were out in the last week because there is a chance you could have picked up Covid-19.
“Think about who you were in contact with in the last number of weeks and the number of your contacts. That makes people more cautious about Christmas Day in terms of behaviour,” he said.
Dr Sheehan said that he is not telling people not to spend time with loved ones, but to “just think about what you do beforehand”.
“Due to the time of year and after people have a few drinks, we can all let our guard down, but with the numbers we’re seeing now it doesn’t take much for the whole thing to take off again.
“We have to bear that in mind and for one year its worth being cautious — reduce your contacts and follow the guidelines. It’s a Christmas like no other and we have to be extra vigilant this year,” he said.
Dr Fiona Kelly of Bank Place Clinic in Castletownbere highlighted the need for “good ventilation” to reduce the transmission of the virus.
“Covid-19 thrives in indoor environments and therefore good ventilation is essential for reducing the transmission of this highly contagious virus. This is particularly important if more than one household is meeting in a home.
“Opening doors and windows allows fresh air to circulate through a house. However, you do not need to perish. Opening a door and window just a small bit can be effective. Keeping an extractor fan on in the kitchen and bathroom where possible can also help,” she said.
Dr Kelly urged people to sanitise on entering another household and to do so regularly throughout the visit.
“Wear a mask when preparing and serving food. Keep two metres apart from people outside of your household and sit as far away as possible at the dinner table from those who are not part of your household.
“Even though we all love to sing a few Christmas songs, singing has been proven to release much more virus particles compared to talking, so it is advised to refrain from singing.
“Avoid sharing food, cutlery, and crockery to limit the spread of this highly contagious virus and limit the time you spend in another home,” she said.
Speaking about the recent confirmation of a vaccine for Ireland, Dr Kelly said that, while it is “both exciting and very welcome”, it does not mean that we can let our guard down just yet.
“The rollout of the vaccine will be a massive undertaking and it will be some time before the non-risk groups get vaccinated. To achieve herd immunity, which will weaken and eventually eliminate Covid-19, approximately 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated. This will take time.
“For the foreseeable future, we should look at the vaccine as an additional weapon in our battle against Covid. Vaccines do not equate to zero Covid. For now, they are an addition to the existing public health measures of social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing.”
Dr Kelly also warned about misinformation that is being circulated, particularly on social media, in relation to the vaccine.
“There is an abundance of information out there that is wrong, either intentionally or unintentionally. Without the correct information and appropriate confidence, vaccination campaigns will not meet their targets to achieve herd immunity and Covid-19 will continue to thrive in our communities. I would therefore urge everyone to seek their information from credible sources,” she said.