Tougher lockdown measures have been implemented in the UK, with the introduction of the ‘three-tier’ system in England and local lockdown regulations being enforced in Wales.
Pubs and restaurants across central Scotland have also been closed for at least two weeks, with no guarantees that they will reopen at this stage, and cases of the virus are increasing dramatically in Northern Ireland too.
So what does this mean for Halloween? For adults, probably a year out from heading to a costume party in person or going out on the town in a large group. And for kids, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to trick or treat in the same way they normally would.
But in spite of tighter restrictions, there are still many ways in which you can celebrate Halloween safely, and make the most of the occasion.
We spoke to Dr Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead at Treated.com, about how to reduce your risk of infection and guard against any transmission of the virus, but still get into the Halloween ‘spirit’ (sorry about that) in new and creative ways.
Carving pumpkins, making costumes and decorating the house
Carving pumpkins at Halloween is an ancient tradition, and it’s very low-risk from a Covid perspective, so you can have them on display inside or outside your house without worrying about the virus.
‘Getting creative with pumpkins at home and making an occasion of it with family is one way to keep the kids (large or small) entertained,’ Dr Atkinson explains.
‘And the result doesn’t have to be something no-one sees, thanks to social media. So if you usually have a pumpkin carving competition at home, getting together with friends and family to do it online offers a covid-safe way of keeping the tradition going.’
When you’re lighting your pumpkin however, it’s safer to use a battery-powered tealight (or christmas lights for a creative take on tradition) rather than candles.
‘Candles can be a fire risk and can be dangerous, especially around children, so best practice is to avoid using them where you are able to when you’re carving pumpkins, and choose a safer light source instead,’ notes Dr Atkinson. ‘And supervising the use of carving tools with smaller children is a must.’
You may be more restricted than you were with your celebrations in previous years, but making costumes, decorating your house and scavenger hunts around the house are still perfectly viable ways to enjoy Halloween this year.
Zoom parties and small outdoor gatherings
House parties are not Covid-safe as things stand. However, online parties from your own home using Zoom, or other video platforms, offer a great way to protect yourself and others from coronavirus, whilst still giving you the opportunity to show off your costume to friends and family.
‘By now, you’re probably spotting a theme. Video calls online have been crucial for interaction with friends and relatives ever since lockdown measures were first introduced in March this year, and they will continue to be the go-to, preventative option for many people until we see measures relaxed significantly,’ says Dr Atkinson.
Outdoor gatherings of no more than six people at a time (with people you don’t live with or have not formed a support bubble with, known as the Rule of Six) are permitted, with the exception of areas that are on a ‘very high’ alert level on the three-tier system.
If you are living in an area that’s on a ‘very high’ alert level, you must not meet with anyone outside your household or support bubble in an indoor or outdoor setting, whether at home or in private gardens. The Rule of Six does however still apply in open public spaces such as parks and beaches, so you can still meet with up to five other people who you don’t live with, or have not formed a support bubble with, in these areas.
If you are living in an area that’s on a ‘medium’ alert level or a ‘high’ alert level, it’s still very important that you consider how you can best protect yourself, your family and your friends from the virus. Although meeting people outdoors is safer than meeting people indoors, you should still follow social distancing rules at all times (standing 2 metres apart, avoiding physical, close and face-to-face contact and refraining from shouting and singing close to other people).
‘Being outside is not completely safe. Think about being in a busy street and being able to smell the cigarette smoke of the person that’s just walked past, or being able to recognise the flavour of an E-cigarette that someone is vaping.
‘If you can smell what’s passing in and out of someone’s lungs, then you’re at risk of being exposed to any respiratory viruses they’re infected with, including the virus that causes COVID-19,’ notes Dr Atkinson.
Halloween, particularly for younger adults, tends to be an opportunity to enjoy a few drinks with friends, be it out at a bar or at a party (all in costume, of course). But this year, the landscape will be quite different. People from multiple households won’t be able to mix outside, and many pubs and restaurants will be closing at 10pm. So what does that mean for those who like to revel at this spooky time of year?
‘Probably more tempered alcohol consumption, which in terms of personal health is certainly a positive thing,’ comments Dr Atkinson.
‘For people who tend to use Halloween as an occasion to meet up in groups and drink alcohol, I think this year many people will find an alcohol-free (or at least alcohol-lowered) way to enjoy the festivities.
‘This probably isn’t solely down to the events that have taken place this year, but more a general trend - I’m certainly seeing more and more ‘low and no’ alcoholic drinks on menus and available on online shops. Because people have to an extent become used to ‘socialising from home’ over the past few months, these kinds of beverages have gained more attention. They’re not always available in pubs and restaurants, but they are easy to get online.
‘So if you normally enjoy a tipple or two over Halloween, maybe this is an occasion to try some “low and no” alcohol versions of your usual for the first time.’
Could this new ‘low and no’ culture be a trend that sticks?
‘I hope so. “Low and no” alcohol beers and spirits, while they help us to stay under the 14 units a week guideline, haven’t always been the most appealing drinks because they don’t necessarily taste as good as “the real stuff”. But lots more breweries and producers are now turning their hand to “low and no” options, and in doing so striving to help us drink more responsibly, which is heartening.’
Trick or treating
Because it involves knocking on peoples’ doors and close contact with others, trick or treating is not advisable this Halloween. The spread of infection could come from both children and adults when moving from door to door, and it’s not perceived as necessary contact during the pandemic by health experts.
‘Trick or treating poses many risks at this time. Primary school children, although less likely to pass on infections to others than older children and adults according to research, could still potentially transmit the virus to people through using door knockers and pressing doorbells.
‘Elderly and vulnerable people would be well-advised not to answer the door in these situations, even if children are wearing preventative face masks underneath their Halloween masks,’ Dr Atkinson recommends.
‘It’s also worth pointing out that Halloween masks are not a substitute for cloth masks, and they do not provide protection from COVID-19.
‘Bowls of sweets can harbour germs from others, so it’s probably for the best to take a year off going around the neighborhood and trick or treating in person. Perhaps doing something where you go from room to room, within your own household, is probably going to be the closest, safest alternative this year.’
As ever, it’s important to be cautious when picking up treats from the shops and keep safety in mind.
‘I would be surprised if the pick ‘n’ mix section of the supermarket was still available, due to the risk that shared implements (like scoops) present for transferring the virus,’ comments Dr Atkinson. ‘So it might be more advisable, if you are going to pick up some treats to have around the home, to pick up a pre-packed option or a multipack.
‘Again - moderation is key. A multipack of smaller packs, with a limit on how many your kids are eating, will help to keep their overall sugar intake within sensible limits. Be mindful that sweets can cause tooth decay, so you shouldn’t consume them in excess,’ says Dr Atkinson.
’The usual tips apply when it comes to enjoying a healthier treat. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids will have less sugar than milk chocolate, and it will be richer, so you won’t feel like eating as much of it.
‘And - I know it’s not as traditional - but there’s always fruit packs as a healthier option too.
‘If you normally trick or treat by calling around at the houses of friends and family, again, it might be an idea to get online and be creative. Maybe set up an itinerary with other parents if you’re able to, where you get to meet up over a call and see who has the scariest costume.
‘If you can, exchanging healthy treats through mail order is likely to be a safer option this year.’