The Irish tradition of “open house” where people are invited to drop in on friends and family over Christmas Eve or Christmas Day should be abandoned this year due to Covid-19, a leading infectious disease consultant has advised.
Prof Sam McConkey of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin was speaking in advance of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meeting next week to recommend what level of restrictions should be in place once lockdown lifts in December.
He said many families are used to having an open house on Christmas for neighbours and friends but “we cannot do that” this festive season.
There were eight more deaths from the virus yesterday and another 330 confirmed cases – a drop from 429 on Thursday, signalling some hope the virus may be driven down again after stalling at around 400 for a “lost week” of lockdown.
The 14-day incidence dropped to 113 per 100,000 with Donegal, Limerick, Louth, Waterford and Roscommon again the worst-hit counties.
There were 283 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 yesterday, of whom 33 were in intensive care. Yesterday’s cases included 99 in Dublin, 28 in Cork, 26 in Louth, 25 in Meath, 21 in Donegal. The remaining 131 cases are spread across 20 other counties.
Asked for advice on managing Christmas as safely as possible, Prof McConkey suggested families could “bubble up” with one other household.
He said: “The Government may allow us to celebrate with a merging of two families. It means it’s the same people you meet on Christmas Eve as Christmas Day and New Year’s.
“The safe way is to stick with the same group. It should not be different groups on different days.”
Prof McConkey said if people stick to the same family group, each could visit each others houses over Christmas.
He said: “There is no doubt that crowding with 10 to 20 people is how this virus likes to spread.
“Big groups are a bad idea this year.”
“We also have to be kind to neighbours who are alone and bring them the plate of turkey,” he urged.
“It is a time of generosity and think of people, including older people who are suffering through this time,” he added.
It comes as Central Statistics Office figures up to last week show people aged 80 and over have been reducing their close contacts from 2.9 to 1.9.
There has also been a reduction in close contacts among the 45-64 and 65-79 year-old age groups. But there has been been an increase in the 25-44 age group.
Overall the number of contacts per positive case is three – down from six per case six weeks earlier. Dublin continues to see the highest number of fatalities.
Last week the total number of deaths from Covid-19 climbed to 1,721, with a further 251 fatalities as probable deaths linked to the coronavirus.
The virus claimed the lives of 69 more men than women up to and including last week.
It also continues to affect the older age groups the hardest, with 64pc of all confirmed Covid-19 deaths to date in the 80-years-old or older age group.
The latest analysis showed the average mortality rate in August, September and October was five people per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 74 per 1,000 in April.
Average hospitalisation rates in those three months were less than 50 people per 1,000 confirmed cases, well down from a peak of 192 per 1,000 in March.
Intensive care rates in that time were five or less per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 27 per 1,000 in March.
The report does not speculate why but it is known that the spread of the virus was significantly among younger age groups who were less likely to have complications needing hospitalisation.
However, there has been a marked increase in older and more vulnerable people becoming infected in recent weeks.
It show the success of the early part of lockdown when the number of cases for the week up to last Friday was 2,363, a decrease of 517 from the previous week. The median age of Covid-19 deaths has remained at 83 years.