The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (”the College) is urging the public to be “extra cautious” even if they test negative before meeting family at Christmas.

The College pointed to research published in the BMJ, which indicates that the average incubation period for COVID-19 is 5.1 days – meaning that people could test negative on day 1, but develop symptoms and have a positive test 5 days or more after.

In addition, while controlled and targeted testing using lateral flow tests can be part of an overall strategy to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the College notes that the currently used versions of these tests do not pick up everyone with the virus, leading to the possibility that a negative result may not be correct.

Therefore, during Christmas, the College is asking people to act as though they could have COVID-19 - even if they have had a negative test - by continuing to follow the public health guidance. This includes cleaning hands and hard surfaces regularly, wearing a face mask in enclosed spaces, keeping two metres distance where possible, avoiding crowds or gathering in large groups, and self-isolating and booking a test if symptoms appear.

The College is also reminding the public that the current Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination requires two doses and then at least 7-10 days before immunity is achieved. Therefore, people who have had the first dose must still take precautions.

Professor Angela Thomas OBE, acting president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

We recognise that Christmas will be an important time for many people, as they gather with family – perhaps for the first time since last year.

This has been a challenging year for us all, including the healthcare workers who have been at the front line of the pandemic.

Many of the doctors we represent have seen the hard edge of COVID-19 and the impact that it has had on patients, particularly the elderly.

However, it is important to remember that nobody is immune to the virus and that many people since the start of the pandemic have had COVID-19 without knowing it, because they had no symptoms. Nothing has changed in that regard.

If you do choose to meet up over the festive period, please remember that Christmas will not be as normal this year. That is why we are asking the public to be extra cautious during the festive period – before, during and after meeting family - by following the usual public health guidance even if they have had a negative COVID-19 test.

This year it’s vital that the festive period is enjoyed safely and responsibly by everyone – to help avoid getting COVID-19 while lifting your spirits with family and close friends.