Life has begun to return to what feels like normal after so many months of the pandemic stopping us doing the things we love. But as we look forward to Christmas, it’s important we remember that the virus is still with us – and we still need to take sensible precautions to make sure we can all look forward to a new year with confidence.
The most important thing to remember about Covid-19 is that it’s an airborne virus – meaning when an infected person breathes out, they breathe out particles that contain the virus and can be breathed in by other people.
That’s why, as we were coming out of the lockdown at the start of 2021, the government first opened outdoor hospitality before indoor hospitality. Put simply, the virus is more difficult to catch the more it is exposed to fresh air and ventilation.
Over the winter months people will be meeting indoors more often as the weather closes in, which of course makes it more likely that the virus will be able to spread.
The good news is that simple steps can go a long way to keeping you, your family and your friends safe when you meet up.
Meeting outdoors is safer: You are much more likely to catch COVID-19 indoors. Meeting outdoors is harder in colder months, but it can reduce the risk of airborne transmission.
● Let fresh air into indoor space: Opening your windows for just 10 minutes or a small amount continuously where you can makes a significant difference.
● Open the windows when you have visitors: Let fresh air into your home before, during and after their visit for a short period of time. Good ventilation can substantially reduce the risk of passing on COVID-19 indoors.
● In colder weather opening the window a small amount can give quite good airflow in the home and regularly letting in fresh air by opening windows for shorter periods of time can be effective at reducing the concentrations of virus in the air.
● You don’t have to completely open windows for long periods – actions such as opening trickle vents, opening windows a small amount if it is safe to do so, and regularly airing by rooms by opening windows wider for 10-15 minutes frequently through the day can help to air buildings without excessive heat loss.
Experts are clear about the importance of ventilation.
“As winter approaches, people will naturally spend more time indoors – welcoming friends and family into their home as the weather gets colder. While we’ve all been looking forward to this for so long, it’s important to remember that coronavirus is still around us, and can easily spread in the home. If someone is infected (and they might be showing no symptoms), COVID-19 particles are released into the air by coughing, talking or simply breathing,” says Professor Catherine Noakes, a Professor of Environmental Engineering at Leeds University.
In an enclosed space, the infectious particles can build up over time and remain suspended in the air, increasing the risk of other people in the room breathing in the infectious particles, especially if there is no ventilation or fresh air helping to refresh the air being breathed. With this in mind, as we meet more people inside, it’s so important to use ventilation such as opening a window, even for just a short time, so fresh air can disperse and blow COVID-19 particles away and decrease the risk of others being infected,” she told City A.M.
It’s really important we all keep testing. One in three people with Covid-19 do not display symptoms, and even though many of us have been double-vaccinated, that doesn’t mean you cannot get the virus and pass it on, even if you yourself might have only mild symptoms.
There are two types of test.
Lateral flow tests – available from your pharmacy and the NHS website – are easy to do and results come back within 30 minutes. These tests are for people without symptoms, so are most useful for checking your status before heading to for instance a big event or the workplace. Many of us have got used to these tests, with children going to school or before visiting elderly relatives.
Dr. Susan Hopkins, an expert in the field, says the lateral flow tests in use are a “very good test.”
“Lateral flow devices are effective at finding people with high viral loads who are most infectious and most likely to transmit the virus to others,” she told City A.M.
The second test is the PCR test, which is for people with symptoms of Covid-19. It’s important that when you start feeling symptoms, you self-isolate and – other than to take a test – stay away from others. That is regardless of your age or your vaccination status. Nobody wants to spend any more time isolated from our loved ones after the past eighteen months, but the best way to ensure that they stay safe and the country as a whole can move on from the pandemic is by following the self-isolation guidelines. You can use the NHS app or website to book a local, convenient, free test.
It’s also important you report your test results – even if they are negative. That helps scientists and experts to spot outbreaks or areas where the virus is spreading. The more information the experts have, the more they are able to ensure that life remains as normal as possible through autumn and winter.
– Over the course of the pandemic over 298 million PCR and rapid lateral flow tests have been conducted, which has allowed us to identify over 7.8 million Covid-19 cases.
– Over 157 million rapid lateral flow tests have been taken in England, finding over 851k positive cases. Find out more about Coronavirus in the UK (data.gov.uk)
You may wish to consider testing if you feel there will be a period of higher risk that day, either to yourself or others. Some examples include:
- Testing before mixing in crowded indoor spaces, for example a nightclub
- Testing before visiting vulnerable people.
Taking a rapid lateral flow test before a period of higher risk will give you peace of mind that you are unlikely to be infectious with COVID-19, and it is unlikely you will spread the virus. If you do test positive, you can then take action to help stop the virus spreading. Let’s send our children back to school safely. Your family and friends can get tested for free.
In it together
It is our willingness to follow the rules for the greater good, and our willingness to get the vaccine, that have allowed us to get to this point – where we can look forward to catching up with friends and family.
But it’s vital we all continue to play our part.
“While vaccines are offering us good protection, COVID-19 is still with us. Stay safe this winter by taking simple but effective steps like wearing a face covering in crowded indoor spaces, testing regularly and ventilating rooms where possible. By doing this, we can reduce the spread of the virus and keep ourselves and others safer,” says Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
So remember. Get the jab. Use the fresh air. And get tested regularly. Go to gov.uk/coronavirus to find out more. Information on. the COVID Booster Vaccination now available.
- Over the course of the pandemic over 298 million PCR and rapid lateral flow tests have been conducted, which has allowed us to identify over 7.8 million Covid-19 cases  Cases in the UK | Coronavirus in the UK (data.gov.uk) Testing in the UK | Coronavirus in the UK (data.gov.uk) – October 2021 and/or
- Over 157 million rapid lateral flow tests have been taken in England, finding over 851k positive cases. *Testing in the UK | Coronavirus in the UK (data.gov.uk) – October 2021