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Celebrate Christmas outdoors to avoid spreading coronavirus

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Families meeting up with vulnerable relatives have been advised to consider celebrating Christmas outdoors this year by the director of public health for Cambridgeshire.

Dr Liz Robin said the risk of catching the coronavirus would be increased by a mixture of households sitting around a table for Christmas dinner.

She told the Cambridge Independent: “It is quite straightforward, really. This virus does flourish indoors and particularly in poorly ventilated environments. So the safest thing to do is to meet outdoors.”

Cambridgeshire has moved into Tier 2 restrictions today (December 2), following the ending of the second lockdown, but the government has said it will relax guidelines to allow three households to meet indoors for five days over the Christmas period. This has raised fears that extended families all meeting up inside homes will cause a massive spike in Covid-19 infections in the new year.

Dr Robin told the Cambridge Independent: “There are mental health and wellbeing issues around being able to have that contact at Christmas, but equally there are risks with households mixing in a traditional Christmas with everyone sitting around a table.

“It would be safer to meet outdoors, clearly, for elderly and vulnerable people. But they need to make sure they are well wrapped up and stay warm because there is a risk in getting very cold."

She acknowledged the decision around Christmas plans was “a matter of choice” for people, but warned: “It would be wrong to say that there is no risk in mixing of households at Christmas, particularly when there are older or vulnerable individuals because this virus thrives on people's social contact.”

Our actions as we finish lockdown will also have an impact on the risk to our relatives at Christmas, she explained.

“That risk will be higher the more infections spread in the period leading up to Christmas. So that means everybody needs to keep themselves really safe and follow all the rules in the period up to Christmas. Then it is a matter of people's own personal choice over the Christmas period as to what they want to do and what is important to them.”

She said the county council would be offering advice on how to mix safely over Christmas in the coming weeks.

“What we will be doing in the council over the next weeks is really getting out there and making suggestions about how we can enjoy ourselves in a way that is safe and that keeps people safe from Covid. We will be looking for suggestions from your readers and people in the community on how to make that work as well.”

The four-week lockdown has brought Covid-19 cases down significantly in Cambridge, with Public Health England data showing there were 95 cases in the week to November 25, down 132 (58.1 per cent) on the preceding seven days.

This took the infection rate down from 181.0 cases per 100,000 to 76.1 - well below the national average.

Key to this was a reduction in cases at the University of Cambridge - where just six cases were recorded by its testing programme in the week of November 23-29. compared to 52 the week before and 234 a fortnight earlier.

The effect of lockdown has been clear to see across South Cambridgeshire too, with 76 cases in the week to November 25, down 64 (45.7 per cent) on the preceding seven days.

The infection rate stood at 47.8 cases per 100,000 compared to 117.5 the previous week. In East Cambridgeshire, there were 58 cases, down seven week-on-week, and the infection rate fell from 81.3 cases per 100,000 to 64.6.

Dr Robin said: “I think we have done very well to bring the infection rate down again. We did have a bit of a spike at the beginning of November and I think, to be honest, there was a bit of social mixing before we went into lockdown which may have contributed to that spike. But I think that we have seen that come very much under control.

"We have seen the rates fall quite rapidly again. I would say the universities have done a fantastic job, where we had infections in the student community, by keeping that inside the university and not letting it spread into the more general population and to older people. So that has been very well done.

“We are coming out of lockdown into Tier 2 restrictions and I know that people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have behaved really responsibly in the past. If people follow the rules and look after themselves and others I think we can get through to Christmas without another spike. It's really important we all work together to do this.”

That will rely on people following guidelines about maintaining physical distancing, however.

“It is vitally important that we now work as hard as we can to reduce our rate of infection to protect those we love ahead of some limited relaxation over Christmas," said Dr Robin. "This means reducing contact with anyone you don’t live with, working from home wherever possible, keeping to well ventilated rooms, washing your hands often and regularly and wearing a mask whenever you are in indoor public places.”

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