Hertfordshire's public health chief urges people to think about how they socialise this festive season

Later this week Hertfordshire County Council will launch its own festive guide, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:02 am

Hertfordshire's public health chief Jim McManus is backing calls for people to think about how they socialise this festive season.

But he insists there are steps that can be taken to make parties and gatherings as safe as possible.

This week the government brought back mandatory face coverings on public transport and in retail outlets, following the emergence of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

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Jim McManus is backing calls for people to think about how they socialise this festive season

And – as the party season approaches – some leading public health officials are reported to have suggested people ‘don’t socialise unless necessary’.

Later this week Hertfordshire County Council will launch its own festive guide, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

And at its heart is expected to be advice to test with a lateral flow test immediately before socialising.

Speaking earlier this week Jim McManus suggested revellers think about a ‘combination’ of measures to reduce the risks of Covid-19 when socialising.

He accepts there may be no 100 per cent safe solution. But – for vaccinated adults especially – he says there are steps that can reduce risks.

Those steps could include combinations of lateral flow testing, ventilation and face coverings, as well as hand sanitising and not over-filling a venue.

But, he says, all gatherings and celebrations have to be considered scenario by scenario.

When it comes to choosing a venue Mr McManus suggests looking at those that have a covid safe accreditation, like the ‘Safe To Trade’ accreditation.

He says the wearing of face coverings in indoor situations is strongly advised, though not required by law in hospitality venues.

And when it comes to eating and drinking without a face covering he says a ‘bedrock’ of other measures will reduce risk – making it ‘much safer’.

He stresses the importance of vaccination – and getting a booster when eligible.

And as well as taking additional measures such as face coverings and ventilation, to reduce risk further he suggests reducing the number of people you come into contact with before Christmas and maybe the number of Christmas parties too.

The safer Christmas party would, he says, be a ventilated room full of double-vaccinated adults who had all taken a lateral flow test in advance and who all worked or socialised together regularly, giving a ‘bubbling effect’.

Even that wouldn’t eliminate all risk, but it would – he says – make it much lower.

And he says wearing face coverings when moving around would lower risk further.

For those looking to have a smaller gathering at home, he suggests ventilating the room well, ensuring everyone is double vaccinated and has had a lateral flow test in advance.

And he says the key issue is to think about the combination of measures you will use in advance.

Commenting on his own choices he says he already wears a face covering and limits the time he spends in crowded shops – especially if the shop is not well ventilated – and he says he chooses quiet times to go to the gym.

He says he limits the number of people he socialises with. And if he has to attend a larger event he does a lateral flow test before and afterwards – opting also to wear face coverings in lectures or in some meetings.

But at a media briefing earlier this week it was also stressed that any advice was not designed to deter people from having a good time.

“I don’t think people should stop going out enjoying themselves,” said the county council’s executive member for public health and community safety Cllr Morris Bright.

“It’s just about making sure you take the necessary precautions.”

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Mr McManus said the variant had arisen very quickly and that it was not yet known whether it was more transmissible than the Delta variant. But he stressed that was no cause for panic.

And he highlighted work that the county council intended to take with retail outlets, schools and employers, following the emergence of the Omicron variant.