For many, Christmas is a time for sloppy kisses from grandparents and bear hugs from long-lost extended family members, but not this year.
The ongoing threat of COVID-19 means it’s time to skip awkward embraces and embrace the awkwardness of social distancing instead.
Despite Australia’s current success in containing the coronavirus, hugs and handshakes remain off the cards for the festive season and beyond.
While rules about face masks and gathering numbers have relaxed in most parts of the country, Australians are being urged not to embrace friends and extended family while celebrating Christmas.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Greg Hunt pleaded with people not to fall into old habits while the threat of coronavirus remains.
“Maintain the distancing habits, whether it’s the hand hygiene, whether it’s the cough, whether it’s not handshaking yet, not hugging people from your household,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“I know they’re slightly counterintuitive and they’re contrary to our nature but these are the things that have kept us safe this year.”
Mr Hunt acknowledged it would be difficult to cut back physical contact.
“Being in a room together, being opposite each other at the table, maintaining the physical touch for the household but not for others, that’s still the medical advice,” he said.
“The Australian public gets it and the more we can observe, the better we are at being able to protect.”
Cruise ban extended
Australians itching to board a cruise ship will also be disappointed after the federal government extended a long-running ban for another three months.
The ban on domestic and international cruises was due to be lifted next week but will now remain until at least mid-March.
Limitations on outbound international air travel will also be extended.
Cruise ships have been banned since the Ruby Princess disaster in NSW, which saw almost 900 infections and 28 deaths.
The battered, billion-dollar cruise industry and travel sector will be bitter about the extension.
But while Australia’s streak of no community transmissions continues, there are still new infections being recorded in hotel quarantine.
“What that says is the international world remains a challenging and dangerous environment,” Mr Hunt said.
“The risks abroad are enormous and if we don’t maintain these important protections, then we won’t be protecting Australians.”
Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who recommended the emergency biosecurity powers be extended, said the health advice was not given lightly.
“We weighed up all of the issues, particularly the ongoing situation internationally, and the sort of risks that could come to Australia if we relaxed at this point,” Professor Kelly said.
Mr Hunt said Australia would not be fully safe until the international community was also, stressing the importance of the country’s vaccine program.
He expects Australia’s national vaccine rollout to begin in March.