Advice to care homes warning them to use only artificial trees, wipeable decorations and to have no festive ornaments if there is a coronavirus outbreak this Christmas has been branded “bah humbug”.
The National Care Forum (NCF), which represents more than 130 social care providers across the UK, said some homes had been advised about the “dangers” of Yuletide decorations.
The organisation, labelling it “baublegate”, said it comes at a time when the “hope and joy” of the festive season is needed more than ever.
The NCF said examples of local infection prevention and control (IPC) advice included that there should be no wood, straw or live trees, only laminated single-use decorations should be used, and that there should be no Christmas decorations during an outbreak, or near isolation areas.
It also said advice had been given that cards and decorations should be quarantined for three days before opening, and presents should be brought to homes unwrapped, to be wrapped by staff.
Such advice had been given to care homes in West Sussex, Hampshire, London and Bristol so far, the NCF said.
Liz Jones, NCF policy director, said “the spectre of infection prevention control overkill lurks”.
She said: “Up and down the country, managers and care workers are digging out the Christmas decorations, untangling the tinsel and dusting off the baubles.
“While Covid has limited so many things in care homes, surely we can still ‘deck the halls’.
“This year, more than any other, the hope and joy of Christmas is needed… But it seems the spectre of infection prevention control overkill lurks.”
She added: “We have yet to find any evidence to underpin this latest flurry of bah humbug advice.
“Quite frankly, IPC advice on Christmas decs is the icing on the (Christmas) cake.
“Christmas decorations can be used safely and sensibly and are a key part of the festive cheer that we all need so badly.
“Baublegate must not happen.”
Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, said the virus is spread by droplets – most commonly by having close contact with an infected person – and he struggles to see how the advice on decorations can “meaningfully reduce” the risk in care homes.
He said: “Whilst it is true that virus in droplets can survive for a period of time on solid surfaces, the length of time the virus remains infectious is not known.
“The time is less for porous surfaces, such as papers. Certainly three-day quarantine for Christmas cards and decorations is not grounded on any scientific study I am aware of.
“Similarly, unless people are actively passing decorations to one another or constantly touching the tree, I struggle to identify any risk from Covid-19 that these regulations would meaningfully reduce.”
Previously, academics have also said the risk of spreading Covid-19 from sending Christmas cards is low.
Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor at the University of Leicester, advised that cards and similar objects with the potential to carry the virus pose “minimal risk” of infection and that people with concerns should wash their hands after opening cards and avoid touching their mouths, eyes or noses to reduce the chances of infection further.
Research published by Australia’s national science agency CSIRO in October suggested that while the virus can last up to four weeks on mobile phone screens and banknotes, it has a much shorter survival on porous surfaces like paper.
The Department of Health and Social Care said its guidance does not prohibit care homes from using decorations for Christmas or other festivals, but that care home providers and managers should consider the specific conditions of each individual place of work.
In its winter plan, published on Monday, the Government pledged relatives of care home residents in England will be able to hug their loved ones before Christmas if they test negative for coronavirus and wear protective equipment.