WHO suggests swapping Xmas dinner for Covid-friendly 'picnic in the park'

19 November 2020, 14:41 | Updated: 19 November 2020, 16:26

Dr Kluge said there were still signs of community spirit being seen across the continent
Dr Kluge said there were still signs of community spirit being seen across the continent. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

People should consider ditching their Christmas dinner indoors this year and opt instead for a Covid-friendly picnic in park, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Europe chief has said.

Dr Hans Kluge, who is regional director for the continent, stressed on Thursday that this year will be "a different Christmas but that does not mean it cannot be a merry one".

He said: "Cherish the festive season with those close to you.

"If it's a large gathering of vulnerable people, you may postpone that gathering until you can safely gather.

"Despite the cold, if local restrictions permit, gather outside with loved ones for picnics in the park."

READ MORE: Family gatherings will 'throw fuel on fire,' warns top scientist

Dr Kluge said there had also been examples of the usual community spirit across Europe, with shelters making plans to deliver warm meals and food packages to the homeless.

Spirits have also avoided being dampened for traditional Christmassy events as many festivities including the unveiling of department store windows have been moved online.

READ MORE: What are the Christmas Covid rules?

Such events have been planned for participation through Facebook Live broadcasts, and more.

"We must ensure safe learning for older children and make sure they enjoy the festive season," Dr Kluge added.

WHO's call for caution comes after a top scientist warned the UK earlier on Thursday that household mixing at Christmas would pose "substantial risks" to older generations and would "throw fuel on the fire" of the pandemic.

Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London (UCL) and a member of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the country has been putting "far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas."

He said it would be "tragic" to "waste the gains we've made during lockdown by trying to return to normality over the holidays."

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As the festive period approaches, many are hoping they will be able to spend time with their loved ones indoors - but it is feared this could cause another spike in infections.

Public Health England has also warned that a day of eased restrictions over Christmas would cost another five days of tighter measures.

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Speaking in a personal capacity, Professor Hayward said: "Mixing at Christmas does pose substantial risks, particularly in terms of bringing together generations with high incidence of infection with the older generations who currently have much lower levels of infection and are at most risk of dying if they catch Covid.

"My personal view is we're putting far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas.

"We know respiratory infections peak in January so throwing fuel on the fire over Christmas can only contribute to this."

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Asked if people should worry more about the health and welfare of their parents and grandparents than gathering together for a movie over Christmas, Prof Hayward said: "Well exactly.

"We're on the cusp of being able to protect those elderly people who we love through vaccination and it would be tragic to throw that opportunity away and waste the gains we've made during lockdown by trying to return to normality over the holidays."

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Dr Kluge, in his speech, also noted other religious holidays this year that had been modified alongside Covid restrictions.

He said the Islamic holy month of Ramadan saw community-based groups breaking their fast with virtual or "distance celebrations", while the Hindu festival of Diwali saw free events planned online for "short, safe revelries".

"Ultimately, these pandemic times are affecting all our lives," he said.

"But we cannot give up when we have so much to gain. I urge you to hold on to hope and make every effort in your communities to reduce your personal risk and the risk of the people and communities around you for the health and wellbeing of all."

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