Christmas parties and nativity plays may have been given the go-ahead by Boris Johnson, but a government minister had science on her side when she warned against festive kissing this Christmas.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston, the work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said: “We should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us” but, “for what it’s worth, I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe.”
Experts agree this would be a risky business – and not the only one.
“Kissing is likely to pose a risk as you are inevitably in very close contact with each other,” said Catherine Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, and a member of Sage.
“However, sharing the same air and interacting together in a poorly ventilated room with multiple people is probably a higher risk because in most events this happens far more frequently than very close contact,” she said.
“Inhaling the virus is a key risk, and so taking steps to reduce the number of people in a space and ensure that it is well ventilated are likely to be of greater benefit.”
Prof Susan Michie, director of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change and a member of the behavioural science advisory group Spi-B, also stressed the role of tiny viral aerosol particles in the transmission of Covid, warning these can hang in the air for many hours.
“The biggest danger at Christmas parties is therefore people talking loudly, singing and laughing, and this may be from infectious people without symptoms,” she said.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, agreed that a Christmas schmooze is not the only risk to consider. Dancing is also problematic because of heavy breathing.
“It’s a good idea to maintain, as much as possible, personal space and good hand and face hygiene. It needs to be remembered that the virus is easily transmitted from person to person in any close contact situation,” Clarke said. “Masks can help, as long as they are properly fitted and clean, but people shouldn’t expect them to be some sort of invincible barrier.”
“This is not a matter of being the fun police,” he added. “You can just as easily catch Covid at a well-attended funeral wake as at a party.”