The Irish doctor leading the World Health Organization's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has advised people to wear face masks in their homes to limit the spread of the coronavirus over Christmas. 

Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said that people should consider wearing masks at home if they believed that they were at risk of infecting others.

He also encouraged people to consider going for walks rather than sitting around watching television and he urged families to consider placing limits on the number of people they allow inside their kitchen at any one time, arguing that "small choices" could be the difference between suppressing the virus or not. 

Ryan, who was speaking ahead of a virtual ceremony where he will receive the Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award for 2020, said that infection numbers may begin to rise when restrictions are eased over Christmas and people start to mix again. 

"The question is what happens then. Do we go back to another wave of disease or do we have a more Asian outcome where we have much better control at a lower level and we can maintain that control over time," he said. 

Ryan argued that if people can help keep the spread of the virus at a lower level, then the COVID-19 vaccines will be more effective when they are rolled out next year. 

He said that young people needed to be certain of their responsibilities to reduce the risk of infection for the more vulnerable members of the community and advised any young students who are returning home for the holidays to limit their social interactions when they get home. 

"If I am a student and I come home for Christmas and I have been mixing with lots of young people in an area where the virus is, then I really, really need to think about where I sleep, where I go to the bathroom.

"Should I be in the small kitchen helping mum prepare the Christmas dinner?" he said. 

He warned against overcrowding rooms during the Christmas period, encouraging families to limit the number of people in any given room where possible. 

"Maybe you can peel the potatoes and the carrots in another room while someone prepared food in the kitchen," he said. 

He additionally advised people against congregating around the television after Christmas dinner, claiming that some people could take a walk and have after-dinner conversations outdoors. 

Ryan also said that family members should wear a mask in the house if a vulnerable community member was coming to dinner. 

"In reality, if you have a highly vulnerable person in the house and you are coming from a place where you think you might be exposed, there are other options. Wearing a mask yourself," he said. 

Ryan also pleaded with people to practice proper hand-washing etiquette over the Christmas season, arguing that it could further help minimize the risk of infection.