Santa Claus in the COVID-19 era: good infection control practice can save Christmas
Over breakfast this morning my 8-year-old daughter causally asked “is Father Christmas coming this year, what with COVID-19 and everything?” Quite the opening gambit to our day, but there followed a thought-provoking discussion around present delivery logistics.
The advent period
There’s several key issues here, covering Santa himself, and the workplace environment for all his employees (elves, reindeer, the administration team…).
Santa. The Claus fella. Father Christmas. The Big Man. Call him what you will, but there must be some level of concern here. We know that risks of hospitalisation and mortality increase in the over 60s. I’ve never actually found out his age, and it’s a bit rude to ask that of any distinguished character who has given sterling service to the globe (happily, I can simply google how old David Attenborough is). But, surely, Santa has to be in a high-risk demographic.
And what of his co-morbidities? One very very very heavy duty night of port, scotch, sherry, mince pies and no doubt a range of other delicious local and cultural global treats on offer — what impact will that have? Has FC got diabetes? Riddled with gout? And is that why he shouts out “Ho Ho Ho!” so loudly because in between each ‘ho’ he’s muttering naughty words under his breath as the gout announces itself and the ibuprofen hasn’t quite kicked in yet? Again, this might all add to his risk profile.
Therefore, we must recommend a period of self-isolation from approximately 10 December onwards, and he should perhaps be advised to reduce any social engagements from early December. I’m not saying to put the North Pole into lockdown per se, but local restrictions can apply, and definitely no serving of booze in the local inn after 10pm, because that’ll solve things at a stroke. I also doubt the local population would want to meet outdoors, it must be chuffing freezing over that way, so indoor meetings must be few in number and for as short a period of time as possible. Everyone who can get a flu vaccine, make sure you do so.
We may not be able to troop down the local grotto to see him in-person this year. Which will be a shame, but I’m sure we all want him to be safe and well for that epic Christmas Eve voyage.
And what of his staff? Numerous elves working close together, in an indoor workshop and factory? We suggest that staggered shift patterns and regular testing be available. Elves with COVID-like symptoms should log on to the government testing portal, and if it turns out their nearest testing site in Nairobi, then never mind, that’s where they must go (or risk a 1000-toy fine). Contact tracing should be straightforward since 100% of their contacts are in the same building, so I’m sure that (having passed over using the local North Pole health protection team who know how to do this sort of thing) the Dido-inspired contact tracers can look forward to taking home a Christmas bonus for reaching about 58% of these non-complex cases.
Anyway, keep as much ventilation as possible in the workshops, try to reduce the numbers of staff in one factory room at one time, and make sure they’re wearing masks (if they are able to), and of course everyone must wash hands regularly.
Some PPE would be good too, but it turns out Greenland Pesticides PLC don’t actually have a track record of sourcing gloves and masks, so heaven knows why they ended up with the contract. It’s not as if the CEO of Greenland Pesticides has married the wife of the local MP… oh no hang on, yes he has, my mistake.
What’s more, they’ve merely dumped a few mittens and a couple of snoods on [checks notes] Grayling Christmas Ferries, so we can look forward to that arriving at Santa’s Village some point in 2023, once Grayling have got around to buying a boat or two.
It’s not just the elves in the workshop who are have strict infection control plans to adhere to. The staff in the offices should work from home if possible… NO! GET BACK TO THE OFFICE, AND THE PUB TOO, EAT OUT TO HELP OUT, IT’S YOUR CIVIC DUTY… oh you’ve all got COVID-19, how remarkable, definitely didn’t expect that to happen, okay, work from home then please…
Christmas eve itself
Well, we’d anticipated the need to apply a ‘rule of six’ to the reindeer (except when they’re grouse-hunting, because that’s an essential pandemic activity). Rudolph definitely won’t be working this year, that big red nose is far too clinically suspicious, so he’s on the side ward. A token cull (not an actual cull, just a figure of speech) was planned of Donner Kebab and Blitzen, so the rule of six meant Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid were on sled duties this year.
However, since three households can gather in the same bubble, then we could send reindeers aplenty everywhere! Still within the guidance, you see? It’s one huge antler-filled bubble! We could leave it up to their own judgement as to whether any of them are in the pre-symptomatic phase of infection when travelling to literally every country in the world.
We could, but we won’t. Because that would be silly. Wouldn’t it?
Incidentally, speaking of silly, Serco made a late bid for the present distribution contract, but happily the North Pole Local Authority aren’t that foolish, and they know full well that Serco have no expertise in this area whatsoever and it would be very silly to hand them such an important task at this globally critical time. Plus they not only learned a lot from the Grayling Ferries Debacle, they also ended up with a free pizza. No one could quite work out why, but you don’t turn freebies like that down.
For Santa himself, then definitely he should wear gloves and a mask, and equip with plenty of hand sanitiser. The reindeer should probably sanitise their hooves and, given their diet of moss, fungi and leaves, why not consider a lovely breath-freshening mint as well? When FC is subtly making his way down chimneys and over to the stockings, then NO SINGING THAT’S BANNED. Quickly and quietly, mark out a one-way system around the house, have a regular changes of gloves, and go easy with touching stuff on any shared buffet that has been left out for consumption.
You have noticed the festive stock levels in supermarkets are becoming steadily more expansive by the day? And if we’ve learned one thing from the pandemic, then it’s that preparedness is key. Even if those mince pies on the shelves since September in fact have an expiry date of 27 November (their continued early purchase used to baffle this author every year, back in his retail days when employed by one of the main UK supermarkets).
What if I’m in Tier 3?
We’ve banned Brussel Sprouts, since they’re not an essential anything.
The most wonderful present of all
The vaccines are close. Too late, perhaps, for Santa this year. The Arctic Circle Regulators who Investigate Devices (ACRID) are on the ball and looking forward to receive the phase 3 data from the clinical trials. It’s one place where -70C storage is barely an issue, though accidentally giving the elves half a dose has gone down about as well as the tactic of ‘handing out a combined birthday and christmas present since your special day is so close to Christmas’
[bah humbug on the part of the author, who as a child was too often on the receiving end of such ‘values’].
On a serious point, the public health response is in danger of being derailed by the icy misrepresentation of data by the local tabloid, the Daily Polar Express. They’re being pumped full of dubious numbers by a certain Professor Merryghan, who holds the prestigious post of Director of Evidence-Based Festiveness at the University of Arcticford. Quite what he’s really up to is anyone’s guess.
But anyway — Santa, if you’re reading this and you need some guidance, then there is a world full of expertise out there. Do get in touch with anyone who can help you (no, not Dido Harding, someone else).
And to the rest of you, dear reader, anything I’ve forgotten? Do let me know!
(Minor edits made 29 November, to reflect updated government guidance. Keeping Santa safe at all times, you see)