Public health expert wants Christmas gatherings delayed

Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally has said that the Irish and UK governments should ask families to postpone family gatherings this Christmas to the summer solstice in June.

As an incentive for people to keep their distance from families over the coming holiday period, he said two extra bank holidays should be offered in June 2021.

By then, he said, the vaccine rollout will have helped enormously.

Speaking to RTÉ News Dr Scally warned that you cannot play catch up with a virus when case numbers rise.

He said that it was no good implementing restrictions when numbers have increased and said that sensible restrictions should be in place at all times.

He said Ireland had been in such a good position in comparison to Europe in terms of bringing case numbers and deaths down. He said this was why restrictions should not be relaxed over the Christmas period.

From Friday three households will be allowed to mix, and people will be allowed to travel around the country for a three week period until 6 January.

The easing of restrictions is designed to allow people to have what the Government have termed a "meaningful Christmas". But people have been warned to maintain social distancing and to follow all public health measures.

Restaurants and pubs that serve food were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining on 4 December.

Dr Scally said it was his view that the hospitality sector was a big issue and that it should not have reopened.

In relation to the mixing of households over Christmas, Dr Scally told RTÉ News that multi-generational gatherings were dangerous and that people should avoid them.

He said a relaxation of restrictions would mean an upsurge in cases. And he said that older people had done so well in protecting themselves and by mixing over Christmas there could be a heavy price to pay.

He warned that there would be a "bumpy ride" ahead in the next few months.

Dr Scally, who is the President of Epidemiology & Public Health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, also said he really worries about what will happen over the coming weeks, saying there has been little discussion about travel.

Travel spreads the virus, he said, and ports and airports are really important.

He said people should not be travelling in to Ireland unless they were going to quarantine, adding that people who weren't going to quarantine weren’t welcome.

Face masks urged at family gatherings

The World Health Organization in Europe has urged families to wear face masks during this year's Christmas gatherings, as it warned about concerns for early 2021.

"There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it," the organisation said in a statement.

It said that while it may feel awkward to wear masks around family members, "doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy."

The UN health organisation said that while some "fragile progress" had been made, "Covid-19 transmission across the European region remains widespread and intense".

It urged the public "not (to) underestimate the importance of your decisions" and take extra precautions as many prepare to gather for the holidays.

If possible, the WHO said celebrations should be held outdoors and "participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing".

For indoor festivities, the WHO said limiting the number of guests and ensuring good ventilation were key to reducing the risk of infection.

In Europe, Germany has begun imposing its strictest public health measures since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Schools and non-essential businesses have been closed in an attempt to stop a sharp rise in the number of infections.

In the latest 24-hour period, Germany registered a record of more than 950 virus-related deaths.

Schools and non-essential shops are also closed in The Netherlands.

In Britain, tighter measures have taken effect in London and other areas.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes can now only open for takeaway and deliveries and theatres have closed.


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