Q&A: I’ve arrived home from the UK for Christmas – what do I do now?

Many who flew into Ireland will have to self-isolate and eat their turkey alone

It is believed that more than 30,000 people have come from Britain since December 8th.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

It is believed that more than 30,000 people have come from Britain since December 8th. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Finally home for Christmas – but hold on, I have to self-isolate now?
Unfortunately, for those coming from England, Scotland and Wales, yes. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas but then came a rapid rise in cases and a new strain of Covid-19 infecting increasing numbers of people in the UK and threatening us. The HSE has taken action and, while it puts even more of a strain on festivities this year (as if that were possible), it is considered essential in preventing the virus from spiralling out of control.

Well okay, so exactly what does it mean I can and can’t do?
Isolation means isolation. This is a step up from simply restricting your movements; you must stay locked away from everyone in your own room for two weeks except for essential, unavoidable reasons. That is open to interpretation, but the message is, nevertheless, clear. Keep a window open, use a separate bathroom with your own towel, keep your room clean and, of course, keep away from everyone. Isolate.

Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun on Christmas Day
No it does not and, as the HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said, it does unfortunately mean many of the thousands of people who have arrived from Britain since December 11th will have to eat their turkey alone. On that note, the official year-round HSE isolation advice is to ask someone to drop the food outside and “if they stand back from the door, you can speak with them”.

Surely people who have waited months to come home will have other ideas
Well, even though it is everyone’s duty to follow public health rules as the pandemic surges, it is almost certain, unfortunately, that some will not. Particularly given the time of the year and, as you say, those long-awaited reunions. That not only sets the stage for health concerns but adds further unwanted fuel for traditional tensions. Families may worry about asking someone to stay behind the door, or pleading with them to come out. Either way, friction is surely inevitable. Some are more sanguine.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
611 132

Gary Donohoe, professor of psychology at NUI Galway, says “families are very understanding of restrictions but, if you have a large family and there is a difference in how people are approaching the level of care, particularly where elderly parents are involved, that can be a source of conflict. But, by and large, families have managed that extremely well.”

Seems easy to fix, though – just get a test to rule it out, right?
That might seem obvious but, alas, no. The HSE is adamant: the requirement to self-isolate covers those who have received a negative test, but who still may develop symptoms and be a risk to others. So while tests are required within five days of arrival, anyone who receives a “virus not detected” result must self-isolate for the full two weeks. Negative test results are a relief, but, frankly, they are not of much help.

Okay, well, it’s bad news, but surely it won’t affect many people
Not so, since it is believed that more than 30,000 people have come from Britain since December 8th. Even on a crude calculation, that is one person for every 40 families in the country (based on 2016 Census numbers). Health officials do not know many of them have the virus, but everyone is being traced through information they gave, or should have given, in passenger locator forms. “We are actively following up all cases now,” Dr Henry said on Wednesday.

But why all the fuss at Christmas? Surely we have learned how to be safe and deal with the virus by now
Well, there are a number of factors at play, not least the rapidly rising case numbers at a rate that has confounded even the experts and their modelling. Christmas has a knack for getting people to mingle.

We are now into our third wave of Covid-19. Even with vaccines on the way, the critical concern is to ensure that hospitals can cope, even if that does mean some lonely Christmas dinners behind closed doors.

And of course the new UK-discovered strain, still under the microscope, seems to be far, far faster to spread. “At this moment our hospital system is stable,” Dr Henry said.

“But we only have to look at the experience of our friends and neighbours in Europe and across the water to see how fragile even well-developed healthcare systems are in the face of this virus.”

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