Ensuring a COVID-safe Santa

Does Santa need to defer Christmas due to the pandemic? Or does he need to update his approach to become a virtual Santa, Zoom Santa or click‐and‐collect Santa? Australian experts have provided some advice

Australian researchers have said that Saint Nicholas sought out their “epidemiological and public health expertise to help him weigh up the risks and benefits, and to propose a COVID‐safe plan” for this year’s Xmas deliveries.

Given he falls into a number of high-risk categories, everything needs to be done to ensure his safety, and the success of Christmas.

“The good news is that after extensive analysis, we have advised Santa that a with a few modifications to his work practices he can do his job safely and not risk his health or ours. Christmas can be saved in 2020!”

“From the outset we classified Santa as an essential worker. If Santa was required to remain at home on Christmas eve it could precipitate an unprecedented mental health catastrophe as the world’s children wake up to empty stockings.

Having already suffered mum and dad’s home‐schooling in 2020, Santa offers some much needed hope this Christmas. Whatever the level of lockdown, Santa must be permitted to deliver this essential service”.

However, protecting Santa’s health is paramount, the authors said.

“We know that Santa’s older age, tobacco use and obesity are important risk factors for COVID‐19 and in fact the BMJ has previously outlined Santa’s chronic disease risk profile, which is some cause for concern.

In his favour, however, Santa has survived numerous pandemics and presumably has antibodies to a plethora of similar viruses. And interestingly there is emerging evidence from Africa and Asia that such immunity may be partially protective.”

In addition to protecting his own health, the other important question they asked is if Santa can make sure he doesn’t spread the virus.

“In many ways Santa is the worst nightmare for public health authorities who have relied on limiting travel and contact between people to control COVID‐19,” they said.

“Applying our traffic light system, Santa would be coming from a low‐risk ‘green’ jurisdiction given Santa Clause Village closed its borders more than 1,000 years ago and has had no reported cases of COVID‐19.

Therefore, as the likelihood of Santa being infected with coronavirus before setting out on Christmas Eve is extremely low, he will not be asked to quarantine on arrival in each jurisdiction.” they said.

Additional precautions include making Santa’s sleigh covid‐safe with fibreglass screens, and installation of a hand‐sanitiser dispenser. And, along with Santa, the reindeer will need to be masked this year, they said.

“We acknowledge that outdoor masks on reindeer might seem excessive and not evidence‐based, but we feel this is a unique situation where being extra cautious makes sense”.

Families can play their role in protecting this important frontline worker by staying at home – in bed.

“Santa assures us he only enters houses where children are sleeping so person‐to‐person contact should not be a problem. We can also help to keep him safe by making sure that if we leave him milk/brandy and cookies – which perhaps we should not given his aforementioned weight issue – we should use disposable cups and plates and have hand sanitiser on the table”.

In the unlikely event that Santa did become infectious, he would still not pose a significant threat of infecting others, the authors said.

“It has been estimated that in order for Santa to visit every child on Christmas Eve he can only spend between 0.003‐0.006 seconds in every household. This is far shorter than the 15 minutes of close contact… that we usually consider to pose a significant risk of spreading the virus.

It is because of this very low risk that Santa poses, we are only asking him to wear an N95 mask in our recommendations and are not requiring him to wear full PPE, which would make chimney descents particularly difficult, if not dangerous”.

“The other possible consideration is the risk of Santa inadvertently transferring virus from a surface in one house to another house as he goes about his deliveries…. To mitigate this risk Santa will adopt extra hygiene protocols and sanitise his hands between houses. Of course, you can help by also being extra hygienic so that the likelihood of the virus on any surfaces in your house is minimal”.

The article was published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health

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