No Covid-19 outbreaks from beaches – scientist

Ella Pickover

There has never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach, MPs have heard

Images of crowded beaches across the UK drew outrage as people flocked to Britain’s beaches last summer.

Police were forced to step in and asked people to stay away from some popular spots with pictures of packed beaches, traffic jams and full car parks being widely shared on social media.

A year with Covid
There was outcry as people flocked to Britain’s best loved beaches last summer (PA)

Professor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, told the Science and Technology Committee: “Over the summer we were treated to all this on the television news and pictures of crowded beaches and there was an outcry about this.

“There were no outbreaks linked to crowded beaches. There’s never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach ever anywhere in the world to the best of my knowledge.”

Prof Woolhouse, who is a member of the SPI-M modelling subgroup of the scientific advisory group Sage, told MPs that mass gatherings – such as a horse racing event – are an exception because they do not involve social distancing and there are “pinch points” like travel and refreshment facilities.

“I think we do have to understand where the risks are so that we can do as much as possible safely,” he added.

Prof Woolhouse said the Government was slow to reopen schools and outdoor activities in the first lockdown.

“I think we probably could have considered reopening schools much sooner in the first lockdown,” he said.

“The other thing, quite clearly, is outdoor activities. Again, there was evidence going back to March and April that the virus is not transmitted well outdoors.

“There’s been very, very little evidence that any transmission outdoors is happening in the UK.

“Those two things, I think, could have been relaxed sooner in the first lockdown.”

Psychologist Dr James Rubin, a member of the Government’s Sage, said the public needed to be given clear messages about holidays.

He told the committee: “The messaging around holidays is going to be a complex one.

“I’m not sure messaging around the complexities of the epidemiology is going to be helpful in a public-facing messaging campaign.

“I think what’s really needed is simply clearer guidance as to what expectations are and aren’t.

“There needs to be, in the background, a kind of rationale for it.

“But I just think people need to have their expectations set a little bit clearer as to what they can expect in the future around that.”

It comes after Cabinet ministers appeared to give conflicting advice on summer holidays in recent weeks.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is planning a summer trip to Cornwall but the Prime Minister urged Britons who want to book a summer holiday to be “a little bit more patient”.

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