Health Brief, powered by European Diabetes Forum: A merry little (COVID-safe) Christmas

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Ah, Christmas. A period full of quality time with your loved ones, eating too much, moving too little and resetting, ready for whatever fun the new year will bring. 

It’s also a time full of navigating family bickers over the best way to cook the turkey, or painstakingly avoiding any mention of politics (if you’re a Brit like me, you’ll know not to mention the B-word).

Yes, this festive season is not without its pitfalls at the best of times – but of course this year, as with the past few years, COVID-19 has added another dimension to the usual family drama. 

Although we are no strangers to the virus by now, COVID is the gift that keeps on giving, with the rise of the Omicron variant again putting a spanner in the works of Christmas cheer. 

So much so that on Tuesday (21 December), the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that celebrating the festivities as normal would in many places lead to “increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths” and urged people to postpone gatherings.

“An event cancelled is better than a life cancelled,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week, pointing out that there is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant and that it also impacts those already vaccinated or re-infected.

But, of course, many of us will still opt to go ahead with Christmas gatherings or may have already travelled home ready for the festive fun to begin.

If so, how to do so in a way that keeps you and your loved ones as safe as possible?

Here’s what the WHO has to say on how to have yourself a merry little (COVID-safe) Christmas:

1. Get vaccinated

Getting the booster shot will be the best Christmas present you can give for your loved ones this year according to the WHO, who point out that, while they do not fully prevent transmission, evidence suggests that approved COVID-19 vaccines provide a high degree of protection against serious illness or death from the disease.

As Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) pointed out, the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against severe outcomes caused by the Delta variant remains high. 

“Therefore, vaccination remains a key component in reducing the impact of Omicron and addressing the circulation of Delta,” she said in a Christmas message, where she called for solidarity this season.

Luckily, there’s no need to put a booster on your Christmas wish list, because the rollout of the third dose of the vaccine is already well underway in the EU.

2. Merry test-mas

To keep on the safe side of things, it’s also recommended to test regularly throughout the holiday season, and especially in the 48-hour run-up to seeing family members (especially if you’re anything like me and if you’ve popped to the shops to do all your last-minute Christmas shopping).

You can get a lateral flow test relatively cheaply and easily through pharmacies, or you could also pump for a more accurate PCR test, which is more often than not free if you have symptoms, or otherwise can be booked and paid for.

3. Mask up 

Alongside the perfunctory Christmas cracker hats, the WHO also recommends wearing masks when physical distancing is not possible and when ventilation is poor, particularly indoors.

This is because masks help stop people from spreading the virus or being infected when droplets containing the virus are inhaled or come directly into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth.

4. I keep my distance, but you still catch my eye

The WHO recommends keeping a physical distance of at least one metre from other people, even if they don’t appear to be sick. 

This is because current evidence suggests the virus is or more likely to be inhaled or come directly into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth when people are in close contact with each other, typically within one metre.

5. Think small

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, the New Year or some other special event this holiday season, smaller gatherings in spaces that allow you to physically distance are safer. 

It’s also a great excuse to get out of seeing that weird distant family member you always avoid at family gatherings.

6. Wintery walks 

COVID-19 is more easily transmitted in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces and where people spend long periods of time together, so go outside or open windows when possible. 

Plus, nothing beats a frosty, wintery walk in the sunshine.  

7. Keep it clean 

The WHO reminds everyone to clean their hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub as the virus may be picked up by touching contaminated surfaces. 

Especially important as you dip into that bowl for your third round of Christmas chocolates (yes, I see you over there).

8. Get clued up on COVID

As the old adage goes, know thy enemy – and the same applies to COVID.

So get clued up on COVID: While the virus can be asymptomatic, the most common symptoms are fever, dry cough and fatigue, so if you have any of these symptoms, keep yourself lonely this Christmas.

9. Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Remember, there’s no rule against eating, drinking and being merry. Keeping yourself mentally healthy is also important – so by all means, make the yule-tide gay and look after yourselves while keeping your COVID troubles miles away.




A message from the European Diabetes Forum

EUDF has been created to bring together multiple stakeholders from across the diabetes landscape in Europe. The mission of EUDF is to ensure that policy action can be directed towards driving better diabetes care at national and European level. Continue Reading >>


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Please note this is the last EURACTIV Health Brief of 2021, but we’ll be back in the new year to bring you the latest on all things health.


On early Thursday morning (16 December), the European Parliament’s negotiators and the Slovenian presidency of the EU Council reached a provisional deal to update the carcinogens and mutagens directive. This EU law protects workers from the risk of exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances.

The Regulation on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) was adopted by the European Parliament on Monday (13 December) after more than three years of work.


COVID Certificate: As of 1 February, the EU Digital COVID Certificate will only be valid for nine months after the last dose of the primary vaccination cycle according to the European Commission.

New vaccine: The European Commission has granted conditional marketing authorisation for US biotech firm Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine, Nuvaxovid, on Monday (20 December) following the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommendation.

Omicron: Adapted vaccines and increased unity amongst EU governments are needed to effectively tackle the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to the European Commission. To fight the new variant of concern EU members will get an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first three months of 2022, the European Commission said on Sunday (19 December).

MEPs on COVID: On Wednesday (15 December) MEPs discussed the EU’s response to the pandemic of COVID-19 and the new variants. Most of the MEPs highlighted the rise of disinformation and the need to vaccinate populations outside of Europe.

Children vaccination: European Union starts drive to vaccinate children against COVID

ACT-Accelerator: On 16 December, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, has appointed Dr. Ayoade Alakija as WHO Special Envoy for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator).

WHO vaccine emergency list: On 17 December, the WHO listed the 9th COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use with the aim to increase access to vaccination in lower-income countries. The vaccine, named CovovaxTM, is produced by the Serum Institute of India under licence from Novavax and is part of the COVAX facility portfolio. 


The WHO’s new Global Competency Standards for refugee and migrant health services aim to strengthen countries’ capacity to provide health services to refugees and migrants worldwide by defining the range of competencies that should be incorporated into health workers’ education and practices.

On 16 December 2021, the Ministry of Health (MoH) of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared the end of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak. The declaration was made in accordance with WHO recommendations, 42-days after the second negative test of the last confirmed case.


Slovak doctors could lose licence for spreading COVID disinformation. Slovakia’s healthcare surveillance authority has begun investigating a group of high-profile doctors for spreading dangerous COVID-19 related disinformation which could lead to them losing their medical licences. By  Barbara Zmušková |


Irish bars, restaurants, cafes to close at 8pm under new restrictions. The latest round of COVID-19 restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant has come into effect in Ireland, with all restaurants, bars, cafes having to close at 8pm and indoor events banned after that time as of Monday (20th December). By  Molly Killeen |


France plans to launch ‘vaccine pass’ by the end of January. The French government hopes to launch vaccine passes by the end of January, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told news channel LCI on Sunday.  The new pass, which aims to increase vaccination rates, will replace the current sanitary pass as PCR or antigenic tests will no longer be sufficient to enter restaurants or cinemas. By  Nelly Moussu |


Germany to buy vaccines from Poland, Portugal, Eastern Europe. Berlin wants to purchase vaccine doses from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Portugal to secure supply for its booster campaign. The European Commission has also approved the early delivery of 35 million Moderna doses to Germany, the new health minister told journalists on Thursday. By  Julia Dahm |


Spanish children had increased suicidal thoughts due to COVID-19. The number of mental and behavioural disorders among children has tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 3% experiencing suicidal thoughts in 2021, the Spanish branch of Save the Children warned on Tuesday. By  Fernando Heller |


Commission: Italy must justify compulsory quarantine, tests for travellers. Italy has to justify its new measure imposing mandatory quarantine for the unvaccinated and compulsory tests for vaccinated travellers, Commission vice-president Věra Jourová said at the end of the general affairs EU Council on Tuesday. By  Eleonora Vasques |


EU plans massive vaccination campaign in Eastern Europe. In close coordination with governments in eastern and southeastern Europe, the European Commission is currently preparing massive awareness campaigns over the need to get vaccinated, has learnt.

In addition, more drugs to tackle COVID-19 are expected to be approved this week amid new tensions following a decision that even vaccinated journalists will need a negative PCR test to take part in the EU Council later this week. By  Sarantis Michalopoulos and Vlagyiszlav Makszimov |

25 December | Christmas

31 December | New Year’s Eve

11 January || First Health Brief of 2022

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