23 December 2021

How to have a very merry, COVID-19 safe Christmas in the ACT

| Lottie Twyford
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Boy with dog at Christmas

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but it doesn’t mean we can forget COVID-19 safe behaviours. Photo: File.

After the past two years of going from one disaster to the next – bushfires, hail and lockdowns one and two – there’s a definite sense of community relief as Christmas 2021 rolls around.

Many of us are excited for it being the first time we can (mostly) travel freely to visit family and friends and catch up with loved ones.

The ACT is in a strong position as we head into the festive season, with an age 12-plus vaccination rate upwards of 98 per cent.

But there’s also a very real sense of concern, driven largely by the arrival of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, with cases escalating in NSW and remaining high in Victoria.

Infectious disease expert at the ANU Medical School, Professor Peter Collignon, doesn’t believe there’s cause for alarm yet.

“Social interaction is important, but there are things we can do to manage the risk,” he said. “You can’t make it zero [COVID-19 cases], but you can really reduce it.”

Think about the risk

ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith has particularly encouraged Canberrans to think about how to manage risk when they are travelling interstate.

She recommended avoiding high-risk places such as gyms, nightclubs and hospitality venues in areas where high case numbers are being recorded. Instead, she suggests spending time outside with loved ones.

“Personally, I would not be going to a nightclub in the Newcastle region at this time,” she said.

Wear a mask

Mask-wearing is now mandatory in the ACT in indoor venues other than homes.

Ms Stephen-Smith said this is an additional easy way to manage risk when visiting friends and family.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Professor Collignon.

“If you don’t want to wear a mask, you can also wear a face shield, which is a bit more comfortable in the heat,” he said.

Get vaccinated and get your booster

If you’re eligible to do so, Professor Collignon said being vaccinated is the most important thing.

Fortunately, the ACT has stellar vaccination rates so it’s really about getting that third dose if you are able.

READ ALSO Vaccine bookings open for the ACT’s five to 11-year-olds

Hold Christmas lunch outside

Professor Collignon said holding a party outdoors, rather than indoors, can lower the risk of transmission by a factor of 20.

If you can’t do that, he said to “turn off your air-conditioning and open the windows and doors”.

Likewise, a one-hour party has a lower risk profile than an all-day event.

Oh, and avoid kissing your relatives. Instead, give them a hug.

Don’t go if you’re sick (or meant to be in isolation)

Ms Stephen-Smith said while she sympathises with people who are keen to see their families, she’s asked the community to consider “whether you want to see your family so much that you’ll be the one to give them COVID-19”.

“Probably not,” she said.

Likewise, Professor Collignon said this is a year when “if anybody thinks they shouldn’t come to Christmas because they’re unwell, they definitely should not”.

He said even if they return a negative result but they have a cold or another virus, they really shouldn’t be turning up.

READ ALSO COVID-19 restrictions to ease for domestic travel into the ACT

Consider a rapid antigen test

The ACT Government only offers free COVID-19 tests at its clinic to people who are eligible for one.

That means you need to be deemed a close or casual contact, have symptoms or require one for travel interstate. You can’t go and get one just to be on the safe side before seeing family.

In that case, your best option is to get rapid antigen tests that are readily available in the ACT.

Throughout all of this festive season, Ms Stephen-Smith asks Canberrans to stay up-to-date with health advice that often changes.

She also urges people to remain alert to exposure locations that are updated on the Check In CBR app, as well as on the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website, and has warned against public complacency.

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