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Preparing for a different Christmas

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‘KEEP IT GOING’ Dr Gillian Chambers, pictured at the Covid 19 test centre at MacHale Park in Castlebar, has said the majority of the Mayo public have been very compliant with Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Covid must inform all our movements this festive season, says doctor

Edwin McGreal

People in Mayo need to brace themselves for a different type of Christmas. That’s according to Dr Gillian Chambers, the Clinical Lead for the Covid-19 Testing Programme in Mayo.
A ‘normal’ Christmas would only lead inevitably to a rise in Covid-19 numbers in January, Dr Chambers said. In light of this, she is warning people not to let down their guard just because the end of the pandemic might be in sight.
“We have the vaccine on the horizon, but it is not here yet, and we need to try to really think about what we do over the next three to four months to try and get the level of virus in the community low, because if the numbers go up, more people will get sick and people will, unfortunately, pass away,” she told The Mayo News.
“It’s like the end of World War II. People died on the last day of the World War II, it is still just as tragic.
“The flipside of it is that it is not just the social aspect but the commercial aspect for businesses, who have been hanging by a thread all year and trying to be really creative about how they keep the public safe and maintain a business and maintain their employees. It is very difficult. I wouldn’t fancy being in government right now and balancing those interests. Sometimes there is no right answer and you have to pick the least wrong answer,” she added.
Dr Chambers – who prior to Covid-19 was a Senior Medical Officer in Mayo Community Care working in, amongst others, the area of school vaccination programmes – urges people to ‘risk assess’ everything they do this Christmas.
“I would probably advise people not to travel from abroad unless it is for compassionate reasons, especially from countries with higher incidences. Personally, I would say multiple families having Christmas dinner is a risky behaviour. Anytime you get a congregation of people eating and drinking with no masks on, you are not going to maintain your distancing. People know this, and it is about what you feel is an acceptable risk.
If you are in that situation, you are putting your family at risk. We’d love to be able to say that’s not the case,” she said.
Bottom line
Dr Chambers said people’s actions and behaviour in the next week will affect any relaxation of restrictions, but she added that no one should expect a sudden liberation from all restrictions.
“With the level of cases at the moment we know we have ongoing community transmission, so if we see an increase in social mixing we are going to see more cases in January. That’s the bottom line.
Unfortunately, the virus doesn’t know what time of year it is or how much we need a Christmas after the year we’ve had.
“This year we are really going to have to risk assess every situation we may encounter over Christmas.
“You really are going to have to cut your contacts down as much as possible.”

Vaccine vital
Dr Chambers said that while there has been huge progress made in the development of a vaccine, it is likely that it will be ‘late spring, early summer’ before it is rolled out across the country, due to the logistics involved.
However, she said one of the biggest challenges could be convincing people to take it.
“The WHO would say that vaccine hesitancy is one of the top ten biggest threats to public health worldwide.
“When you are thinking about drugs, a vaccine is the most regulated, most researched drug you can take.
“Once it comes through Phase 3, I would have no hesitancy taking it myself or giving it to members of my family.
“Without it, I cannot see us returning to how we want to live our lives, both socially and commercially.”