No coronavirus outbreaks linked to crowded beaches, says infectious disease expert
Thousands of people flocked to beaches across the United Kingdom last summer to relax and soak up the sun, prompting concerns of COVID-19 "superspreader" events.
But crowded beaches do not spread COVID-19
. That is what Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease specialist from the University of Edinburgh
in Scotland, told Members of Parliament (MPs) on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Woolhouse cited the outcry last year over Brits visiting beaches in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet there has never been an outbreak linked to a beach anywhere in the world. In fact, there is very little evidence that the virus has been spreading outdoors in the U.K., added Woolhouse.
However, outdoor events like horse racing or football matches were an exception because they have very little room for social distancing. These outdoor events also have "pinch points" where people could come into close contact with others and possibly contract COVID-19, such as near entrances and public restrooms.
No outbreaks linked to crowded beaches
Woolhouse believes that people are unlikely to contract COVID-19 at the beach for many reasons. One reason has to do with the weather conditions at the beach, especially during summer.
How the coronavirus infects a person is it hitches a ride on minuscule water
droplets in the air, also known as aerosols. People generate aerosols from coughing
, sneezing and talking, which then linger in the air. A person may become infected if he or she comes into contact with aerosols generated by a carrier of the virus
Aerosols stick around for longer periods if the air is dry, which is the case in winter. In summer, air is warmer and wetter, which means it carries liquid droplets. These droplets can bind to those droplets carrying the coronavirus, creating big and heavy droplets. Big and heavy droplets can't linger in the air for long.
Space is another factor affecting transmissibility. Viruses tend to spread faster during cold months since most people spend their time indoors. Viruses have limited space to move around in, which works in their favor. This is partly why flu
activity in the United States usually starts in fall and continues through spring.
In contrast, people are likely to sit apart from others at outdoor recreation areas like beaches. And since these places are not confined by walls, viruses would have to travel great distances in order to infect a host. As mentioned earlier, such movement is more difficult in the summer due to heavier and wetter air.
Overall, Woolhouse's comments offer hope to Brits looking forward to summer vacation this year. Authorities have already discussed allowing hotels and inns to reopen in the first half of April, possibly after Easter.
Exploring methods of easing protocols in the U.K.
The same panel also heard how the U.K. government had been slow to reopen schools after the first lockdown. Woolhouse told the committee that children are at very low risk of infection. Teachers and school staff also do not face a greater risk of infection than workers in other industries, according to recent studies.
Woolhouse also said authorities could have allowed outdoor activities sooner for the same reasons that people should be able to go to the beach without fear of infection
Furthermore, Woolhouse said that the success of the government's vaccination program means they may now consider lifting current lockdowns. (Related: “If lockdown were a drug, it wouldn’t be approved,” says UK medical researcher – lockdowns do more harm than good
Wales is under lockdown until at least Feb. 19, while Northern Ireland and Scotland are under lockdown until at least the first week of March. England is under lockdown until further notice from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is set to unveil his roadmap to lifting COVID-19 restrictions in England around Feb. 22.
Woolhouse said government authorities should be looking at "earlier unlocking" if they are driven by the data available, not by dates.
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