The anxiety associated with keeping friends and family safe has always been one of the most challenging parts of the coronavirus pandemic. Taking personal responsibility for your health is one thing – but weighing up the risks of spreading Covid-19 to the ones you love can be a particularly difficult and emotionally taxing experience.
Add in the pressures of Christmas, and we’re talking about a whole other ball game. At a time typically reserved for family, the idea of not seeing the people you love can feel even harder than usual. But with coronavirus cases rising due to the Omicron variant – and more and more people coming into contact with someone who has tested positive – the decision as to whether or not to go home for Christmas has become one laced with moral ambiguity.
At any other time of year, this decision wouldn’t be so stressful. Sure, cancelling plans to see family isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s easy to push things back a couple of weeks until you can be certain that things are safe.
At Christmas, however, not only can being away from family feel incredibly isolating, but there also tends to be a lot of pressure from older relatives to travel home no matter what – even when their health is usually the cause of the biggest concern. It can lead to all kinds of feelings including stress, anxiety and guilt.
Of course, the best way to alleviate some of those feelings is simply to make a decision and stick with it – but that’s obviously easier said than done. So, what’s the best way to go about navigating the moral ambiguity of the current moment?
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here – and the advice from the government remains a bit vague. As always, if you have any of the three main symptoms of coronavirus – a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss of taste or smell – you should self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test, even if they’re mild. You should also self-isolate and get a PCR if you test positive on a rapid lateral flow test at home.
From this point, the rules get a little more open-ended. While the rules still state that you should self-isolate if you’ve been in close contact with someone with Covid-19 up to two days before they test positive (which can mean living in a house with them, having face-to-face contact, being within one metre of them for one minute or longer or being within two metres of them for 15 minutes or longer), certain exemptions do apply, including for those who are fully vaccinated.
In these cases, the rules simply state that you should take a lateral flow test every day for seven days, and consider limiting contact with those who are deemed higher risk.
With this in mind, it’s legally OK to visit family at Christmas when you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive if you continue to test negative on your daily rapid lateral flow tests and don’t develop any symptoms – it’s just up for you to decide how likely it is that that person was able to spread the virus to you.
To negate some of the risk, you might decide to take a rapid lateral flow test just before you visit someone, wear a mask when you’re with family and open windows when inside – all of which can decrease the risk of the virus spreading.
Of course, while these rules don’t change if the person who has tested positive is a partner, friend or housemate, the emotional toll of ‘leaving someone behind’ to go home at this time of year can be especially hard to deal with – and it’s OK to feel a little torn.
If you’re navigating this kind of situation, it’s important to maintain open communication with the other person involved (not face-to-face, obviously) and make sure you’re taking care of yourself and your mental wellbeing. Managing the emotions of the person who has tested positive and your loved ones at home can feel incredibly overwhelming – and at the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for you, whether that’s going home or staying put.
If one thing’s for sure, the current situation isn’t easy for anyone – and without clear guidance from the government as to what we should be doing to deal with the surge in new cases, it’s unfortunately up to us to make these important decisions. Just remember: you’re doing your best – and that’s all you can do right now.
For more information on the rules around self-isolating and testing for Covid-19, you can check out the NHS website.