How to have a safe as possible Covid Christmas Day for your family and friends

Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Suzanne Elliott

Christmas 2020 - like so much this year - is going to look very different from other years despite the government relaxing strict coronavirus rules for five days over the festive period to allow families and friends to get together.

Restrictions have been relaxed to allow up to three households to mix indoors from December 23 to 27, but the easing of these rules has been caveated heavily by medical professionals - including the government's own.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty described Christmas as "a period of risk" and urged people to be "very, very careful".

How opening a window can make all the difference

So if you are planning to take advantage of the easing in restrictions and spend the day with family or friends not in your household or bubble, how can you plan the day safety?

ITV News asked some experts for their advice for a Covid-secure Christmas day.

Before your guests arrive

Public health expert Professor Sian Griffith advises people to think very carefully about whether to go ahead with the day.

"The first thing to consider is whether you really need to meet up with others . If so – then plan together in advance," she told ITV News.

Plate up the food in the kitchen rather than passing dishes around. Credit: Unsplash

Prof Griffiths said people could consider quarantining before visiting family and avoid going into situations that carry a higher risk such as pubs, restaurants and crowded shopping centres.

"Some might get a test to check they are negative," she says, but advises that lateral flow tests only detect about 50% of positive cases.

Official advice in England and Wales is that your gathering should be "as small as possible", while in Scotland you should have no more than eight round.

There is no limit in Northern Ireland.

The UK imports between one and three million Christmas trees from other European countries. Credit: PA

When your guests arrive

You've thought it through and you've decided to go ahead and invite family or friends over for Christmas - and they are about to step through the front door.

There should be no hugging, shaking hands or kissing. Yuletide greetings should stop at an elbow tap. The government's top advisers have been very clear on this, issuing a stark warning not to hug elderly relatives this Christmas "if you want them to survive to be hugged again".

Professor Griffiths suggests you have hand sanitiser by the door which you can offer to them as they're coming in. She says guests should take their bags and coats themselves.

Will there be presents under the tree? Credit: PA

Choose the biggest room in the house - and make sure it is well ventilated

We get it, it's December, but experts have continually stressed the importance of opening a window or two. Experts believe the virus can survive in a stuffy room for several hours, which means letting in a bit of air could be a life saving decision.

Professor Paul Linden from Cambridge University, an expert in the airborne spread of Covid, says: "It is a real risk being indoors all day with the windows closed; this really increases the risk of airborne transmission of the disease.

"You will be mixing, presumably, with family members you haven't seen for some time so it is important to open the windows at least some of the time, try to produce as much ventilation as possible. Don't stay in a room that feels stuffy because that's an indiction of high carbon dioxide levels which is what you exhale, breathe out."

While she acknowledges Britain's inclement weather is not compatible with al fresco dining in December, Professor Griffiths suggests people try and spend as much time outdoors, maybe even consider eating out doors.

"You might have your starter outside for example, and if you're going to do that, think about how you might keep people warm - patio heaters, fire pits, blankets, because being outside reduces the risk."Wear an extra cardi, dig out your cosiest Christmas jumper: wrapping up warm could be the most important wrapping you do this festive period.

Wipe down boardgames after use. Credit: Unsplash

Nibbles and pre-lunch drinks

Your guests are settled in on the sofa that is as far away from you as the room allows, and it is time for a few pre-turkey dinner Twiglets and of glasses Bucks Fizz. Prof Griffiths suggests individual 'snack plates' to avoid people passing around bowls of crisps and nuts. She also suggests people consider paper plates which can be disposed of easily with minimal contact.

And on the subject of disposing, Prof Griffiths says people should think about how they are going to get rid of detritus that could be potential virus carriers.

"Have plenty of tissues available, especially if you've got kids there, but think of how you going to to dispose of things like tissues, are you going to have a special bin that you're going to dispose of frequently throughout the day?"

A traditional Christmas dinner Credit: David Davies/PA

It's lunch time

Happily for your guests, they can munch on their snack plate without feeling as if they need to offer to help in the kitchen, because Covid guidelines advise that they leave households and bubbles to it.

"You should not be too close to people when you're preparing food," Professor Griffiths says, adding it could be an idea to prepare lunch before your guests arrive to avoid any over eager guests refusing to take no for an answer.

At the dinner table you should be sitting as far apart from each other as possible, although unless you live in a stately home, few people have tables large enough to accommodate elbows let alone two metres.

At the Christmas dinner table buffets should be avoided and the passing of dishes should be limited, meaning it would be better if one person plated up.

Prof Griffiths says: "You don't want to have any shared plates so you may serve lunch differently because when you're passing food around, there's an increased risk that somebody might have coughed onto the spoon or the food."

And this includes the gravy boat - that will need to be dished out with the rest of the food, which could be the where this year's arguments start.

Ensure all crockery and cutlery is freshly cleaned is essential - Prof Griffiths recommends wrapping up cutlery in individual napkins - and when finished put them immediately into hot soapy water.

“A smaller Christmas will definitely be a safer Christmas," the FM said. Credit: David Davies/PA

Are Christmas presents Covid safe?

"There's no evidence that diseases have passed on through packaging," says Prof Griffiths. "But you could ask people to send the presents in advance so that they're all there, and then put in piles around the tree."

After lunch

You're all stuffed from your own individual portions and you want to collapse in front of the Queen's speech. But not this year... Prof Griffiths and Prof Linden both advise people to get out for a walk if possible, while Prof Griffiths suggests it might be time for your guests to... leave.

"Frankly, if people are coming over just for a meal together, keep it short. Rather than have those long evenings sitting in front of the telly together, you go home and drink in front of your own telly.

"It sounds really horrible, but we've got to survive this - and we're only going to do it (a Covid Christmas) this year.

"And some people might be delighted to be allowed to leave early so you never know. It's not necessarily a bad thing."

Prof Griffith says while it is better to go for a walk, most board games should be fine to play as long as you wipe the board and the pieces down regularly. The issue, she says, is people sitting too close, so she advises people wear masks while playing or choose a game that does not require you to be in close proximity.

It's beginning to look a lot like a Covid secure Christmas. Credit: PA

Professor Griffiths' top tips

  • Do not pass plates of food around - have individual snack plates for people

  • Have disinfectant wipes in the bathroom for people to clean the loo etc after they've used it

  • Use paper plates

  • Individually wrap cutlery

  • Have the window open and spend as much time outside as possible

  • Consider paper towels which can be put in a bin lined with a plastic bag which can be removed and put outside at regular intervals

  • Have spray accessible to wipe down the surfaces

  • Make sure hands are washed before a meal or food preparation 

  • Anyone preparing food should not be too close to another person in the kitchen

  • Prepare - you minimise risk by preparing. Between now and Christmas, can you minimise your risk? Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance. If you're ill you don't go near other people. Cancel Christmas day if you're not feeling well

  • Talk to your guests before the day to agree on how you are going to arrange things to keep everyone safe

  • Think about whether, just because you can, you should meet up. You could have a good Zoom conversation with all your family and postpone the turkey to March

  • Presents are probably fine but don't hand them out, let people take their own