"Do your best to signal to friends that things are not back to normal"
The UK is starting to relax its coronavirus blocking rules, which means that some of us can now see friends and family from whom we have been separated for months.
Under the new rules:
- From Monday, people in England can gather in groups of up to six people in outdoor spaces, such as parks or private gardens – as long as you are two meters (six feet) away
- In Scotland, members of two different families – up to eight people – can meet outdoors if they maintain a social distance.
- In Wales, people from two different families will be able to meet outdoors from Monday, maintaining social distance
- Groups of up to six people who are not in the same house can meet outdoors in Northern Ireland if they are two meters away
We asked doctor and TV presenter Xand van Tulleken to consider making sure our meetings were as safe as possible.
The details of the rules vary in the United Kingdom; therefore, if you live outside of England, some of the advice below may not apply to you.
Dr. Xand van Tulleken: "We have to have a very high level of paranoia"
1. Who to invite
The first thing to do is to think about who you are inviting and what pressures that invitation will put on them – we are very different vulnerable to this virus.
If you are inviting overweight men who are older, they face a very different risk for young families with young children. If you are inviting people who have had the virus, this is very different again. Think about the invitation and think about who you are putting at risk.
If you are thinking of inviting a 70-year-old overweight man, I would consider having a very detailed conversation about the risks they were prepared to take.
If you are protecting, you obviously cannot attend these meetings.
2. How to get there
If you are organizing an event and people can enter the garden directly, brilliant.
If they can't and people are walking around the house, it would be reasonable to tell them to wear a mask, wash their hands when they enter the house and then go straight to the garden. They must not touch anything. You need to get them to the garden as soon as possible.
3. Social distance
To maintain social distance, about a quarter of a tennis court is what you need for a meeting of six, if everyone is from different families, which is huge.
If you had 12 picnic blankets two by two meters, each one would need to sit at the intersections where the blankets meet to ensure that you are two meters from the other people in the group and two meters from passersby. I don't expect everyone to have 12 picnic blankets, but those are the distances we're talking about.
A creative attempt at distancing tried in a Brooklyn park
You need to find a way to measure. You can take a six-foot stick, a bamboo cane, a tape measure or a broom or whatever you can improvise, hold it and spin it in a circle – everyone needs to do it without hitting each other.
In your garden, you can mark two meters with blankets, chalk or tape to create small areas for people – no one from separate families should be sitting next to each other on a bench.
- Creative approaches to social detachment
When we talk about gardens, I look at mine and it's a very small space. Having more than two socially distant people would be impossible.
4. Food and cutlery
In terms of bringing your own silverware, it is difficult. Everyone through these sets of guidelines will have to determine how much risk they are prepared to accept.
If you think you have had coronavirus and / or have a low risk, which means that you are young, you are thin, you are a woman – those are the main variables – your behavior at a picnic is likely to be much more relaxed about things like share the potato salad and use other people's cutlery. But of course, you need to do everything you can to stop being a carrier and make other people sick.
If you're an older, overweight man and you think you haven't had the virus, I'd say bring your own cutlery and your own coleslaw.
5. Wash your hands
If you're in the park, you may not be able to wash your hands, so I'd say bring hand gel, wipes and maybe water to wash your hands or identify a sink nearby.
If you have people in your garden, you need to do your best to signal that things are not back to normal and to help them feel safe and feel safe.
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Dr. Adele McCormick of the University of Westminster demonstrates how to wash your hands
You can ask your guests to set alarms every 45 minutes or every hour in a staggered way, so that everyone can wash their hands when the alarm goes off. If you're hosting, tell everyone "we'll all wash our hands once an hour".
You can also have a sign somewhere in the bathroom that says "wash your hands".
6. Using the bathroom
There must be at least two minutes between people using the bathroom.
You should wash with the seat down – many people are not bothered by this, but the bathroom spray generates an aerosol and there is coronavirus in the body fluids.
After washing, you need to clean the bathroom. You need disinfectant wipes in the bathroom or a spray with some disposable towels.
You also need a new hand towel for everyone who dries their hands, so as not to become contaminated with the usual hand towel in the bathroom.
You want a stack of disposable towels and you want a lot of soap available in the bathroom. All surfaces need to be cleaned.
Even so, remember that it is not a risk-free zone. The toilet paper is likely to be contaminated – you are definitely taking a risk doing this.
7. Meetings with children
You are not allowed to hug people and that is the rule. But in my experience, if a small child wants a hug, it is practically impossible to stop him. For people with nieces, nephews, grandchildren, godchildren or other important children in their lives that they haven't been able to see for a long time, if you are going on a picnic in your garden, it will be very difficult to avoid contact.
I would say that if you end up having a hug, at least, don't grab the person and pull them in your face. A proper full frontal hug is the most dangerous, but a child hugging his leg is much less dangerous.
The only safe advice, however, is not to hug.
8. Alcohol and terms
You should do what you can to signal that this is not a normal meeting. You are having a picnic or a meeting at a time of a serious deadly disease that circulates widely in the population. We still have a high level of transmission in the UK.
Alcohol breaks down inhibitions and people are much more tactile when they are drunk.
The other thing is the time limit. If you spend the whole afternoon in the garden with people drinking, this is very different from approaching and saying that we are going to sit two meters away for an hour and wear a mask on the way.
Anything you can do to signal to people that this is not a normal meeting will make you and them feel more secure.
The virus moves through the air or through droplets that come out of people's mouths and land on surfaces and people touching those droplets. I took cleaning products from the house and cleaned all surfaces when people left.
This virus is unpredictable and dangerous – significantly more dangerous than other viruses in the UK. We have to have a high level of paranoia about this.