15 Dec 2020, 9:26 a.m.

Health and care leaders in Gloucestershire are urging people to approach the festive period with 'great caution' as they warn of rising hospital admissions and a potential third COVID-19 wave in January.

The last few weeks have seen a rapid rise in the number of COVID-19 positive patients being admitted to hospitals around the county, with numbers 25% higher than at the peak of the first wave. This puts enormous pressure on the hospital and other local health and care services.

Local people are being reminded to take every possible precaution to help reduce transmission and to also think carefully about their Christmas plans.

Whilst the Christmas season should be a time of joy and an opportunity to spend precious time with family and friends, the NHS and care partners are asking people to show restraint, not let their guard down and put COVID-19 planning at the heart of Christmas preparations.

The guidance from the government states that people may choose to form a Christmas bubble, mixing with people from no more than three households during the five day Christmas period from 23 to 27 December.

However, the NHS is urging people to think carefully about the risks to themselves and their families, and should they choose to form a bubble, reminding them that they are still responsible for taking steps to prevent catching and spreading the virus.

Dr Andrew Seymour, Clinical Chair at NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group said: “Forming a Christmas bubble is a personal choice and we don’t want to tell people not to celebrate, but the risk in spreading the virus remains high, particularly with family gatherings indoors where it will be incredibly difficult to maintain social distancing.

"We are asking people to think very carefully about their whole family and the need to keep them safe, particularly those who are clinically vulnerable.

"If you do choose to form a bubble, try to limit your contact with other people in the time left before Christmas, to reduce your risk of catching and spreading the virus.”

Professor Steve Hams, Chief Nurse at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are concerned that the spread of the virus will quickly gather pace as soon as the restrictions are relaxed, even for just a few days, so if we let our guards down now it could be very costly in the New Year.

"The NHS is under a great amount of pressure at the moment, with a rising number of admissions into our hospitals, which could rise still further in January if we don’t continue to do everything we can to control the spread of the virus.

"So please, think carefully about your plans and exercise a huge amount of caution for the sake of your friends and family, for our communities and for Gloucestershire, so that hopefully we can all celebrate together again in 2021.”

John Trevains, Director of Nursing at Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “We know that Christmas can be one of the hardest times of the year, especially for those who live on their own.

"This isn’t about scaring people, or telling people to spend Christmas alone; this is about asking people to think really carefully, to plan for what their Christmas looks like in terms of keeping contacts to a minimum, exercising social distancing and good hand hygiene and more specifically considering the impact of their actions on vulnerable people like older relatives.”

Sarah Scott, Gloucestershire’s Director of Public Health said: “We have all made tremendous sacrifices this year, but I would urge people to think about their own personal circumstances and what they think is an acceptable risk for themselves, their friends and family.

"The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is a great step forward, but it does not mean we can let our guards down. We must continue to do everything we can to prevent case numbers from climbing and protecting those who are most vulnerable to the virus.”

What are the guidelines between 23 to 27 December?

  • People may form a ‘Christmas bubble’ mixing no more than three households between 23 and 27 December.
  • During that period, people must not mix with those outside of their bubble in either their home or garden.
  • You are still able to form a Christmas bubble if you are clinically extremely vulnerable, but it does involve greater risks for you. If you do decide to form a Christmas bubble you can take extra precautions set out in guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable. Others in your bubble should be mindful of your increased risks and be extra vigilant in the days before you get together.
  • People who are self-isolating should not join a Christmas bubble.
  • Tier 2 restrictions continue to apply in Gloucestershire at this time.