25 Nov 2022

How to avoid a Covid Christmas: Michael Baker's top tips

9:42 pm on 25 November 2022

The Silly Season is just about upon us - as a third wave of Covid-19 cases sweeps the country. Photo: 123RF

One thing probably not on anyone's Christmas wish list is Covid. But with the season for mixing and mingling upon us it could be harder and harder to avoid; first or second time round.

So to help you avoid a Covid-19 Christmas Checkpoint asked for top tips and advice from Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.

Earlier this month, health officials warned summer cases could peak at more than 11,000 a day with a hundred hospitalisations each day. That would be similar to July numbers during the second wave of Omicron.

Health workers are overwhelming demand on the public health system, and Baker himself has already warned we are well into the grips of a third wave of Covid-19, and it is unclear where the numbers will peak.

So, some wise caution with the Christmas cheer seems in order.

Go to Christmas parties, but minimise the risks

Baker said don't skip Christmas get-togethers because of the risk of Covid. Instead, take steps to lower the risk of the virus spreading, including having organisers stress that those attending big events must do a RAT test the day of the function.

"You definitely should go, because I think it's so important to socialise, reconnect with your workmates and enjoy the festive season, that's really important!

"The big issue is trying to do it as safely as possible ... shift these events outdoors as much as possible to covered areas where there's lots of airflow, There are lots of venues that have those sort of settings."

He warned those who act irresponsibly by not testing were not likely to be thanked for exposing others to risk or infecting them.

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Professor Michael Baker Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"You don't want to get this infection even once, and you certainly don't want to get it over and over again.

"Every time you get infected and re-infected it has similar effects - you're going to be ill, you run the risk of serious illness and also Long Covid each time. It's not something where the risk drops.

"The good news is that vaccination decreases all of those risks, including Long Covid, and also anti-virals decrease your risk of all of these negative outcomes, including Long Covid."

Consider masking up in crowds

Baker said different situations carried different risks, so some awareness and judgement was necessary.

"I would certainly consider using a mask in a very tightly packed, poorly ventilated shopping situation.

"The Christmas rush means you will be in situations where there's a risk... the number of people, the amount of space you're jammed into, whether there's a good flow of air and how long you're there for - this is where judgement is really important."

Travel tips

Travel in cars and on the ferry was less risky than flying, Baker said, but those who did need to take flights or use public transport should lower their risk of catching the virus by wearing a mask.

"I've just got off a flight today and wore a mask during the whole flight and getting on and off the plane as well - I was in a minority, definitely.

"It's when you get on and off the plane is the biggest problem, you are jostling with lots of other people in a confined place with very little ventilation. Once the plane is airborne its ventilation system kicks in and it's relatively efficient ... taking it off to have a cup of tea is not a big deal."

What if you've already had Covid?

Baker said those just getting over an infection should be extra cautious they do not pass it on as they could still be infectious after seven day of isolation, and those who had Covid some time ago should remember they can get reinfected.

Current official guidelines require those who test positive to isolate for at least seven days - but longer if they still have symptoms.

Baker urged people not to rush out of isolation, and said anyone still returning a positive RAT test, even after seven days isolation, was still infectious and could make other people sick.

"At seven days a quarter of people are still [shedding infectious] virus.

"Remember, with this virus the original isolation period was two weeks. Ten days is pretty good, you probably don't have virus left after 10 days. But you are still infectious if you're testing positive to a RAT test."

Those recovering should protect their body from further damage by allowing a gentle recovery, he said.

"The advice is to take it easy, and certainly people are saying wait at least two weeks from the onset of your infection to start gentle exercise again.

"And if you still have symptoms you want to really take it easy and not get back into exercising until you're feeling like it, and then just build up in a slow way."

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Photo: Pixabay/BeFunky

Those who had already had Covid were at risk of catching it again very quickly, he said.

"Unfortunately you're at risk quite soon, even within a month. So you have to start taking precautions very soon after you've recovered from an infection, to avoid getting reinfected. There are people who've been reinfected in less than 30 days.

"You have got more antibodies after you've had an infection, but the way to get antibodies is from vaccinations and boosters, not from getting the virus if you can avoid it."

Stay safe this holidays - get boosted

"Get any booster you can that you're eligible for, it will give you a lot of protection. Vaccination decreases all of those risks, including long-Covid," he said.

"At the moment we still have a quarter of New Zealanders who are eligible for their third dose - or their first booster - who haven't had it.

"And when you getting to that fourth dose - the second booster, over fifty percent of those who are eligible are missing out on this. So this is a big gap that is very avoidable at the moment."

Baker said he had not yet had Covid-19, which he put down to both luck and taking precautions with masks and ventilation.

"I'm not aware of any transmission in our workplace."

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