Carved pumpkins are a must-have Halloween decoration.
It’s October 31, and time to get spooked, as Halloween is here.
Conventionally, it’s the time for attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, playing pranks, etc. It’s when children ask for sweets when calling at someone's home in costume, posing their ‘trick or treat?’ question.
It is the time for the horror of horrors, and be as haunted as haunted can get, witches included. Except that these are abnormal times, thanks to the coronavirus.
So the big question is: can Halloween still go ahead in a pandemic?
Politicians have found themselves presented with the same conundrum (Nicola Sturgeon said she wouldn’t rule out banning trick or treating) and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has had to revise changes to its door-knocking guidance after backlash from parents.
Now we are in the final quarter of the year and there are questions over whether the three-tier lockdown and increasing case numbers leaves any room for sentiment around holidays like Halloween on 31 October – or if should be cancelled altogether.
The much-celebrated annual calendar event does not have such significant religious or cultural associations as other holidays but Brits do celebrate en masse – spending £400m on it last year alone, according to the Independent.
So should people be making plans or staying at home?
For those under short-term lockdown measures in Wales and Northern Ireland, the answer is clear: Halloween would not only require travel but also potential for household mixing, so best left alone.
And in Scotland deputy first minister John Swinney told parents that going trick or treating "brings an additional and avoidable risk of spreading the virus" and “families should avoid it”.
Professor Azeem Majeed, head of the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, tells The Independent that your number one focus on Halloween should be ensuring your plans fit the rules for your area. And if you do decide to venture beyond activities at home then remember that transmission risk is lower outside than inside.
“The risk of transmission of COVID-19 is substantially lower outdoors than indoors, and nearly all infections can be traced to contact with a case indoors,” he says. “Therefore, avoid going into other people’s houses.”
Downing Street confirmed on 2 October that for the 16.8 million people living in local lockdown areas, trick or treating was cancelled because households should not be mixing. Parents face fines of £200 for breaking the rules on a first-time offence.
But if the local rules in your area permit you to trick or treat, then you might fancy taking your family out and a spokesperson for Number 10 said people should use common sense.
Dr Majeed says there are several ways you can make things safer: “Pre-specify which houses you will be visiting. Avoid houses where there are vulnerable adults and there should be no cold-calling. Do not go indoors.” Between houses you should use hand sanitiser in lieu of being able to wash your hands, says Dr Majeed.
In terms of accepting sweets or treats, Dr Majeed recommends only taking pre-packaged items as you can give them a wipe before eating them to reduce the risk of cross-contamination through handling. And do not share a bucket of sweets with people from other households or take part in activities like apple bobbing.
And don’t go trick or treating or leave the house for any Halloween activity if you or anyone in your household has symptoms of COVID-19, or if you have a vulnerable person in your household.
Instead, why not try a virtual trick or treating using video conferencing software or pumpkin carving with friends and family on Zoom?
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