Ho ho uh-oh: Will Covid-19 cancel a visit from Santa?

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 17 Sep 2020, 6:09PM
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Ho ho uh-oh: Will Covid-19 cancel a visit from Santa?

Author
Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 17 Sep 2020, 6:09PM

It maybe three months away, but it's one of the most important days on a child's calendar that could be the latest Covid-19 risk - sitting on Santa's knee.

Smith & Caughey's yesterday announced it was now taking bookings for the highly sought-after event as well as "Santa's Enchanted Forest Experience".

Santa would be available for roughly nine hours a day, four days a week, in the month leading up to Christmas Eve.

The company does note it will be abiding by any advice from the Ministry of Health and its Covid-19 guidelines and that the experiences won't go ahead in level 3.

While the company didn't want to offer any comment for this story, stating it was "too early to comment", its newsletter states "one of Santa's little helpers will be waiting for you ... to see you on your way to Santa's Enchanted Forest".

A rather surprised and speechless epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker jokingly commented that there may now need to be a new alert level - for Santa.

"You've absolutely floored me, nobody has brought up Santa yet," he laughed.

However, in all seriousness, Baker said although it would likely be classified as a "high risk event" he couldn't see why if the country was free of any risk of Covid-19 in the country at the time that the visits couldn't go ahead.

"Obviously it depends very much on the alert level that we are at in NZ and the hope is that we would be at alert level 1 and that all our systems are working very well, that's the optimistic scenario."

But Santa himself was likely more at risk, with him stereotypically being older and overweight, paired up with young children who were usually "fantastic virus spreaders, it's just a disaster waiting to happen, for Santa, I suspect".

"So, for the traditional Santa experience, that's on Santa's knee so that's obviously relatively close, the child might be relatively excited, or distressed, and also Santa will be talking to the child, so right away you've got the potential for virus transmission in those circumstances."

He wanted to see a "fine tune" to the country's alert levels and the creation of a level 1.5.

"Exposures in indoor environments are how the virus is transmitted ... [but] it's just going to have to be one of many exposures that have to be managed and I think we're getting pretty good at this and people understand the environments and the risk of transmission.

"We also know how to interrupt transmission which is physical distance and the use of masks and hand washing, so nothing is unfamiliar about this situation.

"Businesses have been very good at managing these risks depending on what alert level we're at."

Professor Michael Baker says given Kiwis' creativity and ingenuity, there's no reason Santa visits couldn't go ahead - as long as there's no sign of Covid-19. Photo / Supplied

Professor Michael Baker says given Kiwis' creativity and ingenuity, there's no reason Santa visits couldn't go ahead - as long as there's no sign of Covid-19. (Photo / Supplied)

As for the wearing of masks, only for those aged pre-school it was not deemed safe to wear them, however if for Santa's sake, he said it might be safer for a company to choose a fitter, younger Santa.

"With Santa being older and male and the convention is probably well-nourished, Santa may be quite vulnerable.

"You would want to make sure that Santa didn't have any underlying illnesses and was possibly in a younger demographic. I don't want to be ageist about this but there are jobs in most environments with contact with the public and I think this might be quite a high-risk occupation, beyond the usual risks.

"I'm sure there are already occupational safety hazards associated with being Santa anyway, I'm sure this will just be another one."

With three months still to go, he was hopeful with the creativity and ingenuity already shown so far by Kiwis, that novelty, Christmas masks could prove a fun way to encourage children to wear a mask if they had to.

He said Santa could potentially become a "pin-up" for mask use.

"Father Christmas could be a pin-up for infection control, you know, a real advocate for it. I think the resilience and creativity of New Zealanders and New Zealand businesses to make all of this work extremely well.

"I'm sure we will find very good ways of making this work ... I don't think children will need to be disadvantaged in any way in terms of their enjoyment but by thinking early we can still make it very enjoyable."

As for his push for a level 1.5 for Auckland, and possibly the country, next week, Baker said while that would open more doors, it would still hamper the entertainment industry.

"To be at level 1, NZ would have to be very confident that there is no circulating virus.

"I don't think for example, New Zealand could move to level 1 until we're convinced of that. We need a 1.5, that's what we've suggested.

"I think most of the country can move to an alert level 1.5 which might mean some restrictions on larger gatherings and indoor environments.

"Indoor seated events where people are wearing masks are fine ... the industries that would be affected, would be if you're running a nightclub, you have large numbers of people, lots of alcohol, lots of loud music, going for many hours that's probably going to be a very high-risk setting. I do think we need some constraints at level 1.5."

Westfield has also been approached for comment.

text by Belinda Feek, NZ Herald