People should decide for themselves whether it is safe to meet relatives at Christmas even if governments allow it, a public health expert has said.
Professor Linda Bauld said that, with infection levels higher than we would wish across the UK, meeting indoors offers an opportunity for Covid-19 to spread and people could be particularly concerned for older relatives.
The Westminster government has said that a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions “for a small number of days” over Christmas is planned to allow a limited level of mixing between households across the UK.
The Cabinet Office said on Sunday that leaders across the country had endorsed an objective of “some limited additional household bubbling” over the Christmas period for a small number of days; however the Scottish Government said “no agreement has been reached”.
Prof Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said that meeting people indoors would not come without risks.
She told the BBC: “Many of us would wish to see our older relatives at Christmas, and we know that mortality from Covid-19 is significantly higher for older people – I think around 86% of deaths in hospital occurred in people over the age of 65 – so this is concerning.
“At the moment we still have levels of infection in the community across the UK that are higher than we would wish.
“If we come together with people from different households at the time of year when the windows are closed, the people you care about, physical distancing is difficult, it is an opportunity for the virus to spread, so this is really really tough.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to set out the basis of plans for the festive period on Monday.
Prof Bauld said that, in planning whether people can meet over the festive period, governments may also be concerned about mental health, with levels of depression and anxiety significantly higher than expected for the time of year due to the pandemic.
“This discussion is about trying to recognise that there are not only harms from the virus, there are other harms, people want to see their loved ones,” she said.
She added that, even if restrictions are eased, people should make their own decisions about what they feel comfortable doing.
“It is up to us to decide, even if Government says ‘okay, you can get together indoors with other people’, let’s all make our own risk assessment about the people we care about and ourselves and say how are we going to apply that to our own personal circumstances.
“So I think, as with everything throughout this pandemic, it has got to be a partnership between guidance and support that Government gives and what people decide to do for themselves and for their families.”