Adhere to guidance from Health authorities regarding Christmas celebrations-PAHO

November 29, 2020
Assistant Director, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Jarbas Barbosa (contributed photo)

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) member countries are being encouraged to adhere to guidance from their national health authorities regarding Christmas celebrations, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PAHO’s Assistant Director, Dr Jarbas Barbosa, says decisions relating to public and private engagements should be based on the most up-to-date COVID-19 information, particularly data indicating whether the virus is spreading and if countries’ health systems have adequate capacity to deal with cases.

He was speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Wednesday.

Dr Barbosa said PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that countries experiencing widespread transmission should give serious consideration to postponing or reducing engagements involving mass gatherings.

“Regardless of location, [activities like] religious services should look different this year. They should be held outside, whenever possible, only meeting inside when it’s not,” he emphasized.

Dr Barbosa said small indoor gatherings, like family dinners, are “especially risky, even the small ones”, noting that these bring together groups of young and elderly persons from different households, who all may not be adhering to similar infection prevention measures.

“They should be held outside, when possible, and participants should wear masks and maintain physical distance. If held indoors, [minimizing the] group size and choosing well-ventilated areas can help reduce exposure,” he added.

Dr. Barbosa also said individuals should rely on data about the virus’ spread to continually reassess their travel plans.

“We have been seeing countries across our region and across the world place testing at the heart of their travel policies. This cannot guarantee safe travel or eliminate the risks related to infected travellers,” he emphasized.

Noting that it can take a few days before a diagnostic test can detect a COVID-19 infection, Dr. Barbosa said that if it is done too soon, “a person can test negative while still being infected and contagious to others”.

He added that because the test is typically done a few days prior to travel, “a traveller could still be exposed to the virus in the days leading to their departure”.

The Assistant Director said that, as such, “PAHO does not recommend relying on laboratory tests for travellers”.

“We are pleased to see that some countries in our region are relying on… data about how the virus is spreading to continually reassess their travel guidance. We hope other countries follow their lead. To make travel safer, all countries should collectively work together to prevent those who have COVID-19 and are in isolation, as well as their contacts who are in quarantine, from travelling,” he added.

Dr. Barbosa said that throughout the pandemic, countries in the Americas have reimagined how people work, go to school, and socialize, “so that we can keep our friends and families as safe and healthy as possible”.

“The holidays should be no different. People are planning virtual dinners, broadcasting virtual celebrations, and opting for smaller ceremonies, even if it means making personal sacrifices,” he pointed out.

Dr. Barbosa emphasized that the individual decisions made over the Yuletide season, “won’t just affect the people close to us, they will also impact our communities”.

He indicated that solidarity, which has been the foundation of the region’s response to COVID-19, will be more important during the holidays.

Dr. Barbosa said that by adhering to infection prevention measures, such as wearing masks, washing and sanitizing hands regularly, and maintaining physical distance, to keep everyone safe, “we can ensure a better and brighter start to the New Year”.

“The holiday season is a time for family, community, and renewal; and while this year may look different, that doesn’t mean we cannot make the most of it,” he added.

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