A few short weeks ago, we were all looking forward to a relatively normal holiday season. But then came a gift that was more unwelcome than a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking: the Omicron variant.
Now the variant is surging across the country, raising concerns that the NHS might soon be overwhelmed, here are our tips for a joyful, safe, and healthy festive season this year.
Know the symptoms
Although the official list only includes three official COVID symptoms (fever, cough, and loss of smell), we know that COVID can cause a huge variety of other symptoms, including a runny nose, sneezing, headache, and sore throat. This is the case for both the Delta and the now-dominant Omicron variants.
Some people do not experience any of the classic COVID symptoms and wrongly assume they have a cold when they are actually infected with COVID-19. Knowing the real symptoms of COVID can help you identify when you might be infected so you can avoid spreading it to other people.
Spread the word - not the virus - by sharing our handy visual guide with your friends and family.
Feeling ill? Stay home and get a test
Right now, we don’t have enough data yet to say whether the new Omicron variant results in different or more severe symptoms from earlier variants such as Alpha or Delta. So you can’t know for sure whether you have COVID or not, based on your symptoms alone.
If you are feeling under the weather, you should stay home and get tested to make sure you aren’t inadvertently spreading the virus along with your Christmas cheer.
Get boosted now
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19. However, the UK Health Security Agency has warned that two vaccine doses may not be enough to protect against Omicron.
Early research has shown that getting a booster provides much better protection, so make sure you get your third jab when you are eligible. It’s also never too late to book in for your first vaccine dose if you haven’t already.
“Family gatherings will undoubtedly increase risk, especially for older and more vulnerable family members who haven’t yet had their third vaccine dose. Saving Christmas is up to us all, so make sure you get boosted now,” says our scientific founder, Professor Tim Spector.
Protect yourself and others
As well as being fully vaccinated, there are other ways to help stop the spread of the virus over the festive season, including ventilating rooms where people are gathering, wearing a mask, washing your hands and taking regular lateral flow tests.
Even if you feel that you aren’t personally at risk from COVID-19, you’ll be helping to protect those around you who may be more vulnerable.
It’s no surprise that many people want to relax, unwind and celebrate together after a couple of really tough years. But situations where many people are in close contact indoors over an extended period are the perfect environment for spreading viruses like COVID-19, and we’ve already heard of several incidents of Christmas parties turning into Omicron super-spreading events.
In the absence of Government restrictions, it is up to us to decide whether it’s safe to hold a Christmas party this year, depending on what we feel comfortable with.
If you are organising a party, try to choose a well-ventilated, large venue with enough space for people to keep their distance from each other. You can also turn the music down so people can talk to each other without having to get too close or shout.
If you're attending a party, make sure you take a lateral flow test before you go, and please stay home if you’re feeling unwell. Christmas is a time for giving, but COVID is a gift your friends, family or colleagues won’t appreciate.
Look after yourself
If you catch COVID-19 this Christmas, your immune system is your first line of defence against developing severe symptoms. A healthy lifestyle is key to maintaining a fully functional immune system that can fight off viruses.
Use the ZOE COVID Study App
However you’re celebrating please continue logging your symptoms in the ZOE COVID Study app over the festive season. You can also add your vaccines, boosters, and COVID test results, including whether you’re confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant.
Your data is essential for tracking the spread of the new variant, its symptoms and the performance of vaccines, and is a crucial tool for the government in planning the COVID response to help protect the NHS and keep us all healthy this winter.
Stay safe and keep logging.