TNM spoke to experts to understand the best safe practices to apply this holiday season, which includes Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and then Pongal and Sankranti.

A man dressed as Santa Claus surrounded by school children wearing red hatsImage for representation: PTI
Delve Omicron Friday, December 24, 2021 - 15:07

The end of 2021 has begun with a new coronavirus variant of concern – Omicron – spreading and causing worry, as many countries see a sudden spike in cases. With the holiday season – Christmas and New Years Eve, and Pongal/Makar Sankranti around the corner, COVID-19 cases in states are likely to spike. TNM spoke to experts to understand the best safety practices that people can follow while celebrating the holidays, amidst the looming threat of Omicron in India. 

Open space utilisation

Former Tamil Nadu Director of Public Health (DPH), Kolandaisamy, asks people to avoid closed and air-conditioned spaces. “Always utilize well-ventilated open spaces. Avoid cinema halls, malls and air-conditioned trains, department stores, textile stores, etc. People coming to have a quick snack at hotels can be offered seating outside. Even the small tea shops can close down the seating areas inside and only serve tea, coffee and snacks outdoors,” he said. 

The former DPH also quoted a Swiss study that found that poorly ventilated school classrooms record up to six times more COVID-19 cases compared with those that are ventilated and regularly aired. 

“It is also the season of parties, even small gatherings should be avoided in closed, unventilated halls. Move everything outdoors and offer space to move around. There is a much lower risk of getting the virus in well-ventilated spaces,” he added. 

Hospital infection control

Hospitals, both private and government, have to take measures toward COVID-19 infection control as hospitals can also be an amplifying source of transmission of COVID-19. 

“If you look at most government camps, be it for COVID-19 or other diseases, they are organised outdoors, under the shade of trees, etc. This is good practice. Even screening and testing of suspected COVID-19 patients are done in airy spaces. The doors and windows of COVID-19 clinics should be open and there should be plenty of air circulating. Government Medical Colleges and private hospitals too need to move some of their activities – such as outpatient treatment to outdoor spaces. This will help reduce transmission,” Dr Kolandaisamy said. 

Hospitals can also schedule the working hours in such a way that consultation for various departments is at different times. For instance, explained Dr Kolandaisamy, “Ortho and three other departments can have consultations in the morning. In the afternoon shift, it can be general medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and other fields. This way, not all patients will come to the hospital at the same time and spend time in the common waiting room, increasing the risk of transmission”. 

Don’t forget to wash hands

Hand hygiene has been heavily stressed during the first and second waves of the pandemic. With the cases of Omicron on the rise, there is the need to continue hand washing both while indoors and while stepping out. 

“I see a lot of places that don't have hand-washing facilities. This includes wedding halls, hospitals, hundreds of people, party halls, conference rooms, temples, public buildings and offices, restaurants etc. The government should enforce that these have hand-washing facilities. While stepping into a building and stepping out, we should wash our hands. It can really make a difference,” Dr Kolandaisamy added.

Mask up and isolate sick people while at home

The importance of masking cannot be stressed enough, say experts, especially when in proximity with people in indoor spaces, and crowds.

K Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI, said, “Wearing a mask all the time — even at home if there is suspicion of anyone being infected with COVID-19 — is key to avoiding the transmission of the virus. At home, if someone is unwell and seems to have symptoms, even before testing, everyone in the family should wear a mask. And the person who is unwell should isolate themselves.”

“If you are planning to hold small gatherings, arrange them in open spaces, which will minimize the risk of transmission. For shopping, try and move in ventilated spaces and avoid crowds,” he added.

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