Connect with us

Spread & Containment

Four tips to avoid your office Christmas party turning into a superspreader event

Nobody wants a case of COVID or flu as a take-home gift from their office Christmas party.

Published

on

Undrey/Shutterstock

With Christmas just a month away, the good news is that COVID cases in the UK have been falling, and are now at the lowest we’ve seen them for some time.

Meanwhile, the number of new flu infections remains stable. And people in their 20s and 30s have some of the lowest case numbers of both viruses – great if you’re planning your work Christmas party or just fancy getting together with your friends this festive season.

However, while flu rates are relatively stable, they are higher than they have been for the past few years, and data from Australia suggests the UK could face an earlier and more severe flu season this year. Plus, last year, COVID cases increased 139% in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.


Quarter life, a series by The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

You may be interested in:

How to disagree without making enemies in the age of the pandemic – tips from a psychologist

Five reasons why young people should get a COVID booster vaccine

Four reasons the shift to hybrid working is set to stay for young professionals


Add in the fact that it looks unlikely that your past COVID infections or vaccinations will offer much protection against new omicron variants, and the Christmas sparkle is slightly dimmed.

But if you’re wanting to celebrate after two years of curtailed festivities, don’t despair. There are a few things you can do to minimise the risk of COVID or flu ruining your Christmas party.

1. Location, location, location

Thinking carefully about the location of your Christmas celebration can really help prevent the spread of influenza and COVID viruses. Both flu and COVID are spread by small liquid droplets when we breathe, speak, cough and sneeze.

Somewhere outdoors like an open-air ice rink or rooftop bar is the perfect choice. A preprint (a study not yet peer-reviewed) based on contact tracing data found that the odds of transmitting COVID in a closed environment were 18.7 times greater compared with an open-air environment.

Large infection events or “superspreader” events happen most often in venues that are more densely occupied and where people spend a longer time. On a smaller scale, COVID infections have been found to develop in distinct clusters in crowded indoor spaces. So it might be worth rethinking if you were going to hold your Christmas party in a “cozy” basement bar and instead brave the winter chill outside.

2. The guest list

Limiting the number of people who could meet was of course used as a way to limit the spread of COVID earlier in the pandemic. Even though these rules are no longer in place, it’s worth thinking twice about inviting the whole company to a single event. Instead, you might be able to hold a series of smaller events, for example by splitting into different departments.

On average, each person who contracts COVID will pass it on to between two and three others. But that neat country or global level estimate, known as the reproduction number (R0), hides huge variation at the individual level. In reality, most COVID infections stem from just a handful of people. Infection analysis estimates that around 15% of cases cause 80% of secondary infections.

The reproduction number of seasonal flu varies, but on average one person with the flu will pass it on to one or two others. Flu is generally more uniform in its spread, meaning the R0 number is more representative. A highly infectious person with COVID is estimated to expel hundreds to thousands of infectious virus particles per minute while talking, singing or coughing. People with flu expel the virus at lower rates.

A group of young people having beers outside.
Outdoor gatherings carry a much lower risk of virus spread. William Perugini/Shutterstock

3. Get vaccinated

A recent preprint suggests two of the newer COVID variants, BQ.1 and XBB, have mutations which make them very good at evading the immune system. This means that protection gained from previous vaccines and natural infections might not be as effective as against earlier variants of the virus. Precisely how these variants will respond to our existing immunity is unknown though, and the NHS has offered 26 million people in more vulnerable groups across England an autumn booster this year.

Also consider a flu vaccine, which can reduce the severity of illness or even stop you you from becoming ill. Flu vaccines are readily available in the UK at GPs and pharmacies, and cost between £12 and £15 if you’re not eligible for a free one. Many workplaces will reimburse you for this cost.


Read more: XBB and BQ.1: what we know about these two omicron 'cousins'


4. Avoid karaoke

What’s planned for the office Christmas party? A simple meal and a few drinks? Or is something a bit more interesting on the agenda? It seems that Christmas parties with activities (like escape rooms) and themes (such as casino) are on the rise.

When it comes to having a COVID-safe Christmas party, I’m afraid karaoke is on the naughty list. One study found that we produce higher rates of aerosols (tiny particles which can contain infectious virus) during singing compared with breathing and speaking. And anecdotally, singing has been linked to a few superspreader events. So maybe pick something else this year.

Victoria Easton has previously received funding from the BBSRC, MRC, Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and GCRF. She is affiliated with the University of Leeds and is a member of the Microbiology Society.

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

What’s Still Missing on Royal Caribbean Cruises Post Covid

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

Published

on

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

Royal Caribbean Brings Back Popular Event; Adult Favorite Still Missing

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

Published

on

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

How far could UK property prices drop and should investors be concerned?

The more pessimistic analysts believe that UK house prices could drop by as much as 30% over the next couple of years.…
The post How far could UK property…

Published

on

The more pessimistic analysts believe that UK house prices could drop by as much as 30% over the next couple of years. Property prices leapt alongside most other asset classes over the long bull market that ran relatively uninterrupted over the 13 year period from the start of the recovery from the international financial crisis in 2009 and last year.

Average prices across the country almost doubled from £154,500 in March 2009 to just under £296,000 in October last year, when the market hit its most recent record high. Global stock markets had been in a downward spiral for almost a year while property prices kept climbing.

Source: PropertyData

However, a combination of rising interest rates, up from 0.1% in late 2021 to 3.5% in January 2023 and further hikes expected this year, soaring inflation putting pressure on household budgets and nerves around a recession has seen house prices ease. There still not far off their record highs of late 2022 but the trend is downward.

chart

Source: BankofEngland

The big question for homeowners and property investors is just how far could UK residential property prices drop over the next couple of years? How long prices might take to recover from a drop is another important unknown.

First time buyers struggling to get onto the property ladder may welcome a significant drop in UK house prices. Even if higher interest rates mean monthly mortgage costs don’t change much, lower sales prices should reduce the minimum deposits required to secure a mortgage.

However, for anyone who currently owns a home, especially if purchased in the past couple of years towards the top of the market, a significant drop in valuation would be extremely unwelcome. That is particularly the case for home owners at risk of falling into negative equity, which means the market value of their property is lower than the outstanding sum due on the mortgage.

Falling house prices, if the decline is steep, could also create a wider economic crisis and spill over into other parts of the economy and financial markets.

But not everyone agrees UK house prices will drop by anywhere near 30%. Let’s explore the factors that would affect the residential property market over 2023 and beyond and different opinions on how serious a market slump could be. As well as the wider potential consequences that could result if the dive in home valuations turns out to be in line with more negative forecasts.

How much will UK house prices fall by?

The short answer to that question is that we don’t know but the most pessimistic outlook is for drops of up to 30% over the next couple of years. However, there are a number of factors that mean there is a high chance valuations will slide by less. But let’s look at the negative scenario first.

A 30% drop in home valuations sounds like a lot and it is. However, against the backdrop of the last couple of years that kind of fall looks a little less extreme. Prices are up 28% since April 2019 and a 30% fall would take the average price of a home in the UK to around £210,000, where it was in 2016. A less severe 20% drop in prices would see the average price settle at around £235,000, where it was just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Bank of England dropping interest rates to just 0.1%.

Mid-term interest rates are likely to have the biggest influence on house prices. At the BoE’s current 3.5% base rate, the best mortgage deals available are 2 years fixed at 4.8% compared to 1% deals available until recently. At an LTV of 60% on a £400,000 mortgage, that would push the monthly rate up to £2300 a month from £1500 a month.

For some borrowers, that is likely to prove problematic. It is also likely to mean lower demand for properties from buyers who might have otherwise decided to move up the property ladder and first time buyers. A drop in demand at higher price brackets due to affordability thresholds being passed will see property prices fall.

Will demand drop enough to lead to a 30% fall? That depends on factors that are currently unknown. How high interest rates go will have a huge influence and that will depend on inflation. There are signs inflation is easing and today the Fed’s preferred gauge for inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, rose 5.0% in December from a year earlier. That was slower than the 5.5% 12-month gain as of November and the lowest level since September 2021.

In the UK, inflation has also eased from 11.1% year-on-year in October to 10.5% in December. It’s still much higher than in the USA but will hopefully now maintain a consistent downward trend helped by easing energy prices.

There are hopes the Fed will pull back on further interest rate rises from March and that would set a tone that the Bank of England may well follow with a slight delay. The Fed’s base rate is also already higher than in the UK at 4.25% to 4.5%.

If interest rates and, more importantly, mortgage rates do not rise by more than 1% from where they are today it is unlikely valuation drops of as much as 30% eventuate. But if they did what would the consequences be?

What happens if UK house prices fall 30%?

The good news is that even a house price fall as extreme as 30% would be unlikely to lead to systematic issues in the UK’s financial services sector. More people own their homes outright than have a mortgage – 8.8 million to 6.8 million homes. Lloyds Bank, one of the UK’s biggest mortgage lenders recently reported the average LTV of its mortgage portfolio is just 40%.

Even if average LTV is a little higher for other banks, a wave of defaults is unlikely to threaten their stability and infect other areas of financial markets or the wider economy. Mortgage lenders are also reluctant to repossess homes they’ve lent against as it’s an expensive process for them. They will do as much as they can to work with borrowers who are struggling to meet increased mortgage payments.

What does falling property prices mean for investors?

For property investors, it’s really a case of if rental income will continue to cover mortgage payments, or get close enough to mean the investment still adds up. If mortgage payments are likely to exceed realistic rental income over the next few years investors may consider selling up. Unless the property was purchased in the last 2-3 years, that could still mean walking away with a reasonable return.

For investors in the wider financial markets, it seems unlikely that falling property prices, even if up to 30% is knocked off valuations, will see serious contagion spread and spark a crisis.

It’s not impossible that UK property prices could fall by as much as 30% over the next couple of years as a result of higher interest rates and tighter household budgets but the likelihood is the average drop will be less. And in the worst case scenario, wider fallout should be limited. A repeat of the systemic crash that led to the 2008 financial crisis does not seem like a real prospect. Lenders are well capitalised and the system looks strong enough to cope.

The post How far could UK property prices drop and should investors be concerned? first appeared on Trading and Investment News.

Read More

Continue Reading

Trending