Wear face masks INDOORS at Christmas to stop deadly January Covid spike, say WHO
PEOPLE should wear face masks at Christmas to stop a deadly spike of coronavirus in January, the World Health Organisation has urged.
Health officials said that maintaining social distancing and keeping rooms ventilated could also prevent loved ones from catching Covid-19.
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In updated guidance, the global agency admitted people may feel awkward but warned that Europe was on the brink of a third Covid wave.
Mixing over the festive period could "exacerbate" the virus's spread with cases peaking in the first few weeks of the new year, officials said.
The new guidance states: "Indoor gatherings, even smaller ones, can be especially risky because they bring together groups of people, young and old, from different households, who may not all be adhering to the same infection prevention measures.
"Gatherings should be held outside if possible, and participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing.
"If held indoors, limiting group size and ensuring good ventilation to reduce exposure risk are key.
"It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy.
"Vulnerable people and older friends or relatives may find it very difficult to ask loved ones to stay away physically."
SCALED BACK XMAS
It comes as Brits were urged to scale back Christmas plans as health leaders warned the Government not to move areas out of Tier 3 measures "prematurely".
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to announce the outcome of its review of the tier system today, with reports suggesting the number of people living under the toughest restrictions could increase.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson insisted he did not want to "cancel" Christmas, but said people should prepare for a "smaller, safer" festive period.
He confirmed the so-called "Christmas window" allowing three households to join together between December 23 and 27 would still go ahead.
However, the Prime Minister said people would be left to make individual judgements on whether Christmas celebrations were worth the risk.
There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021
The WHO advice, published on Wednesday, warns that the transmission of the virus remains "widespread and intense" in Europe.
It states: "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 health body also warned people to postpone festive and religious celebrations – or limit the number of people allowed to attend.
Anyone that does decide to come together at Christmas should do so outside where possible, regardless of location, it says.
They also advised those who are planning to travel to "avoid crowds" and follow the guidance from authorities.
It comes despite the WHO's Covid-19 Guidance Development Group (GDG) finding there was "limited evidence" masks stopped the disease from spreading, in a report published earlier this month.
Scientists in Denmark also found face masks offer "no protection" to people who wear them, but didn't rule out the possibility they protect others.
Meanwhile a new study has warned that wearing a used face mask could be worse than not wearing one at all.
Researchers, from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and California Baptist University, specifically looked at the three-layer surgical masks.
They found that when the masks are worn for the first time the can filter out nearly three-quarters of tiny particles that stay in the air and are most responsible for infection.
However, if that same mask is used more than once they only filter out one-quarter of the tiny droplets because the masks become deformed with each wear.
The Government had wanted a UK-wide approach to Christmas, but Wales will now legislate to restrict mixing to two households – and will go into a tougher lockdown on December 28.
All parts of the UK are issuing tougher guidance, with a joint statement by the governments of the UK, Scotland and Wales stating: "The safest approach may be not to form a Christmas bubble."
At a Downing Street press conference the Prime Minister:
- Stressed that the three households, five days provisions were "maximums, not a target to aim for"
- Suggested that from Friday people mixing with others over Christmas should effectively isolate by reducing their contacts to the "lowest possible"
- Said people should not travel from a high-prevalence to a low-prevalence area
- Urged people to avoid staying away from home overnight where possible
- Suggested people should avoid seeing elderly relatives until they have been vaccinated
He added: "Have yourselves a merry little Christmas – and I'm afraid this year I do mean little.
"But with the vaccine, and all the other measures that we are taking, we do know that things will be better in this country by Easter."
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said modelling indicated the looser restrictions would lead to more deaths.
He added that his advice for the festive period was: "Keep it small, keep it short, keep it local and think of the most vulnerable people."
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her "strong recommendation" was for people to stay within their own household and own home.
In Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster said the public must take "all and every precaution" at Christmas and proposals for further restrictions will be brought forward on Thursday.
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