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How to handle party season amid the new variant, according to scientists

·5 min read
 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

To go to the office Christmas party or not? That seems to be the question on many Britons’ lips this week, as the new coronavirus variant continues to raise concerns regarding socialising.

At least 30 omicron cases have now been detected in the UK.

Scientists don’t yet know whether it is more transmissible or leads to worse disease, but some fear it could be the most serious variant yet.

However, information regarding socialising has been conflicting thus far.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson told the public that there was no need to cancel festive parties.

“The most important thing is that people should follow the guidance we’ve set out,” the prime minister said after receiving his Covid vaccine booster dose at London’s St Thomas’ hospital.

“People shouldn’t be cancelling things, there’s no need for that at all, that’s not what we’re saying.

“What we’re doing is trying to respond in a balanced and a proportionate way to the arrival of the omicron variant.

“We’re focusing particularly on transport, on travel, so tough measures for anybody who comes into this country, very tough measures for people who come in.”

His advice is contrasting with that of Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, who, on Wednesday urged people not to socialise if they don’t need to.

“If we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay,” she told the BBC.

“So I think being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to.

“And particularly going and getting those booster jabs which, of course, people will now be able to have at a three-month interval from their primary course.”

Given that no restrictions have been put in place so far, it is currently up to individuals to decide whether or not to attend their Christmas parties.

Here’s how to protect yourself and others if you do decide to keep calm and carry on.

Ensure you’re fully vaccinated - and get your booster if you can

This is an obvious one, but a crucial one to state nonetheless. If you’re going to a social gathering, you’ll be much better protected against catching coronavirus if you’re fully vaccinated and have received a booster jab.

This week, the government revealed plans to offer a booster dose to anyone aged 18 years old and over, meaning those who haven’t had theirs yet should be able to book it in the coming weeks or months.

“Vaccines primarily benefit you, for example making you much less likely to get severely ill from a Covid-19 infection,” explains Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow within medicine at the University of Southampton. “However, they do also reduce the risks of being infected and of onward transmission.”

Take a lateral flow test beforehand

Many companies who are holding Christmas parties are already asking employees to do this, but even if they aren’t it’s still a good idea to take a lateral flow test before venturing out.

“The rapid tests are very good at detecting when you are infectious (i.e. able to spread the virus) and that infectious period begins before you show any symptoms,” notes Dr Head.

“If positive, then follow the appropriate guidance and arrange a PCR test for confirmation. If it’s negative and you have no Covid-like symptoms, then you’re probably good to go.”

Look after your gut

This is an unusual one but it could help to boost your overall immunity, says Dr Jenna Macciochi, senior lecturer at the University of Sussex.

“With 70 per cent of your immune system in the gut, this is a key site for training your immune cells,” she explains.

“Enjoy the rich seasonal food but try to fill up on the most fibre-rich goodies to keep your gut bugs happy.

“Peppermint and probiotics can be your friend when your tummy starts to feel uncomfortable from all the rich festive food.”

Moderate alcohol consumption

It’s advice that literally no one wants to hear before going to a party, but this time around it might be worth reducing the amount you drink to give your body an overall wellness boost.

“We all tend to think about supplements when it comes to seasonal wellness but alcohol is known to make immune cells less effective at carrying out their jobs and have a negative impact on sleep, stress, food choices etc. which indirectly can be detrimental to your immune system,” Dr Macciochi explains.

“Processing alcohol in your body can triage resources and nutrients away from other important body functions as it has to prioritise alcohol removal.

“This doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy a drink but as we approach the party season, perhaps a pause to consider the amount and frequency of alcohol and consider a B vitamin supplement to help replenish your body after a night of drinking.”

Stock up on supplements

There are plenty of easy ways to protect yourself this party season, and one of them includes simply purchasing a few supplements, advises Dr Macciochi.

“Amid the festivities, don’t forget to take your daily vitamin D,” she suggests.

“Keep some vitamin C and zinc on hand in case you get struck down. Although there is no evidence they will help with Covid, they may slightly reduce the duration of cold and flu if taken upon onset of symptoms.”

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