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Making your Christmas celebration COVID-safe

It’s still possible to get together for some time out with colleagues.
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Making your Christmas celebration COVID-safe

Making your Christmas celebration COVID-safe

20 October 2020

Office parties and other end-of-year celebrations might not look the same this year, but not to worry, it’s still possible to get together for some time out with colleagues and others in ways that don’t put anyone at risk.


Party outdoors

Why not take your event outdoors? This is the safest option, given that the great majority of infections are contracted in indoor spaces, where air currents mean that people generally end up breathing in other people’s exhaled air, even with physical distancing and air conditioning.

An outdoor event in a park or public garden can take advantage of beautiful surroundings – weather permitting – and partying in the open air presents a much lower risk of inhaling aerosols that may be contaminated from someone else’s breath.

With some venues, it will be necessary to book your space. In Canberra, for example, the National Capital Authority is promoting the idea that organisations could hold their function in the Old Parliament House Rose Gardens or on Aspen Island. In the spirit of holiday giving, the NCA will waive hire fees. So plan ahead and get in early.

Physical distancing is still important, even outdoors, so dancing, singing and close-up mingling should not be part of the plan. And the ground rules for the event should make it clear that anyone who is unwell, particularly anyone who has any respiratory symptoms such as a cough or cold, must not attend the event.

Hand sanitising stations should be readily accessible, and any hand hygiene risks anticipated and avoided as far as reasonably practicable. For example, you may consider asking people attending to bring their own plates and cutlery, and their own food and drink.

In addition, public health requirements in many jurisdictions mean that businesses and undertakings need to keep a record of everyone attending, the name, phone number, the date and time they attended the venue. This information is important for contact tracing, in case it later emerges that someone at the event subsequently tested positive, and may have passed on the virus without realising it.

To properly guard personal information, paper-based collection of contact tracing information should be done on a form that is kept private from other patrons, and secure from unauthorised access over the following weeks. The information can be destroyed after 28 days.

Collection of electronic information (eg on an iPad) must also maintain the privacy of personal information, and moreover, it must be done in a way that does not create a hygiene risk. For this reason, devices should not be handed to people attending, but rather collected by a staff member holding the device.


Keep events small

The scale, nature and venue for your event should be chosen in the light of the local situation. Find out whether you’ll need a COVID-19 Safety Plan, check maps of hot spots for active cases in the areas of potential venues, and make your plans accordingly.

Numbers of people attending will have to be within the allowable limits. Check your local health department to find out what restrictions apply in your locale.

In New South Wales, for example, the four-square-meter rule currently applies to all indoor venues, bookings are restricted to 10 people and no more than 20 people are allowed to gather outside in a public place.

Queensland currently has a limit on gatherings to a maximum of 10 people in homes and public spaces.
In Victoria, restrictions are tighter than elsewhere in the country, and big office Christmas parties will almost certainly not be the go.

The other states and territories generally have fewer constraints in place, but some particular restrictions may still apply, for example, on dancing.

This may change over the next two months, however, so it will be important to check requirements closer to the time.


Take advantage of technology

A solution for some businesses may be a hybrid event where some people are on site and others join in via Zoom or other platforms. This is an ideal way to include vulnerable individuals who may be at special risk, for whatever reason.

While ‘virtual mingling’ might not have quite the same zing to it, if you’re joining in from home you can still relax and chat with colleagues, and at least you won’t be having to balance a drink and a plate in one hand while using a fork with the other.

Live, interactive games that cyberspace attendees can participate in are limited only by the imagination. Invite staff to make suggestions, and you might be surprised by what people come up with. And if that doesn’t bear fruit, event organisers would no doubt be delighted to arrange COVID-safe trips to wineries or other venues serving gourmet food with music.

As long as it’s safe for everyone, a celebration can be a positive influence on workplace morale and a well-deserved relief, after such a difficult year.

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