Ailin Quinlan: Could you ever have predicted the misery and stress of it all?

Never mind singing carols or cracker-pulling and stupid jokes; according to the particularly grim reminder issued by researchers at UCC this week, time spent eating together poses the greatest risk of all. So says Ailin Quinlan in her weekly column
Ailin Quinlan: Could you ever have predicted the misery and stress of it all?

MIXING HOUSEHOLDS: We have been warned again there is no safe distance from an infected person. Picture: Stock

AS we huddle in fleeces to combat the gale from the open windows, struggling to make eye contact across the arctic distances between place settings while straining to hear what’s being said over the humming of air purifiers and the hiss of extractor fans, one thing is certain. Nothing will ever match Christmas 2020 for sheer hollow misery.

Once gathered around tables where plastic bottles of sanitizing gel jostle with festive candles and diners are cautious about touching the best crockery let alone the red-and-gold crackers, the advice is to gobble down the turkey and ham at warp speed.

Never mind singing carols or cracker-pulling and stupid jokes; according to the particularly grim reminder issued by researchers at UCC this week, time spent eating together poses the greatest risk of all.

So, after all those hours of shopping, preparation, cooking and table decoration, the advice is to basically get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible before rushing to replace your face-mask.

Conversation will be tough - after all, one can only spend so much time rejoicing over Santa’s successful entry into Irish airspace the night before, or the advent of a free Covid vaccine in January, when everyone is keeping one eye on the new CO2 sensor (purchased to monitor the efficiency of the ventilation in the room) and the other on the portable air purifier (installed to remove the potentially lethal virus from the air).

Can we cough? Don’t even risk it. Sing carols? Nope. Can we even make jokes? Possibly not. Because after all, Covid-19 is present in the tiny particles emitted from the mouth when an infected person is doing things like talking, singing or coughing - and presumably big Christmas belly laughs are equally hazardous. These miniscule virus-bearing particles don’t fall to earth. Instead they remain suspended in the air for up to several hours waiting for you to breathe them in. Put simply, airborne transmission occurs when these particles are inhaled by another person. Airborne transmission is the single major issue indoors, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces (such a, yes, the Christmas dining room) where levels of the virus can spread throughout the room and build up over time.

Under these conditions, as we were again warned this week, there’s no safe distance from an infected person and all those present are at increased risk of infection.

Could you ever, at your darkest moments, have predicted the misery and stress of it?

So, as you summon your reluctant diners together around the Christmas table - including the designated Bathroom Marshal who has been standing outside the loo all morning to remind people to close the toilet lid before flushing (because this helps prevent the virus from getting into the air) - you may well experience a flush of sheer hatred for the Three Wise Men for doing their jobs right and frightening the wits out of us all this Christmas. On the other hand, you may, in reflective and objective mode, admire Tony Holohan, Ronan Glynn and Gabriel Scally all the more for doing their jobs right and stoically continue to frighten the wits out of us – and you may decide to continue doing as they advise, because, after all, they have been right about more or less everything so far. You may even be moved to acknowledge that, boring and tiresome as they are, the social distancing, the obsessive hand-washing, the sanitiser, the extractor fan, the air purifiers and, er, the bathroom marshals are far better than seeing Granny being rushed into intensive care a few days after Stephen’s Day, leaving you to account for your Christmas Day negligence to the rest of the family.

No matter what happens, at least, having done all you can, you can say to yourself (and, worst case, to the rest of the family), you tried.

There are some who would maintain that Tony, Ronan and the rest are the Grinches that stole Christmas; they have become, as one adult declared passionately to me recently, national hate figures. They what? Certainly, who does not hate the thought of having to spend hours cooking a complex, extravagant dinner before throwing open the windows and instructing diners to clear their plates as quickly as possible – while, I might say, insisting they keep their distance from any guest who has come from outside their household or support bubble.

Then there’s the noise of the kitchen extractor fan staying on all the time and, potentially, the pressure to invest in an expensive portable air purifier or CO2 monitor for Christmas because you’re so worried about vulnerable family members.

Yes it’s easy to blame the public health doctors. But isn’t it a bit too easy?

Lockdown may be over for the time being, but the virus is still alive and thriving. The virus does not recognize the Christmas spirit. What Covid does seem to recognize, and with great alacrity, a sitting duck in a warm ill-ventilated room, rubbing shoulders with an infected person who may be completely asymptomatic. More turkey, anybody?

More in this section

Sponsored Content