A senior British health adviser yesterday told a committee of UK MPs that there was “very little evidence” of Covid-19 transmission outdoors, and none at all to suggest that transmission had ever occurred on beaches.
When questioned about the crowded beaches that made headlines in the UK last summer, Prof. Mark Woolhouse said “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.”
The news is heartening for an island whose tourist trade relies strongly on its beaches and, although beaches have been open for several months, there is no indication of any cases of transmission on Canarian beaches.
While humans love sun, sand and sea, the combination provides an extremely hostile environment for the coronavirus, which also cannot be transmitted effectively in open air spaces where there is ventilation.
On Lanzarote, the current law limits public beaches to 50% of capacity and prohibits group sports on them. Masks must be worn when moving around the beach but may be removed once you are sunbathing or swimming. The general rule prohibiting gatherings of more than two people who do not live together includes beaches.
So, if beaches and open-air spaces are safe, why are we still wearing masks? The reasons are several. Firstly, as Prof. Woolhouse admits, open air transmission can occur outdoors in places where there are crowds that may cause “pinch spaces”. The wave of cases that followed last year’s Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool/Atletico Madrid Champions league match illustrate the risks.
Secondly, there is sheer caution. Experts do not yet know everything about the virus, and authorities have often tended to err on the side of caution. Last summer, when the Canaries was trying to win back tourism, the image of the islands as a safe refuge from Covid-19 was all-important, and explains the strict measures that were introduced.
Finally, compulsory mask wearing outside was introduced to remove confusion. Previously, people were permitted to make their own judgments about distancing outdoors and only required to put masks on when distancing was not possible or when going indoors. A blanket rule eliminates this confusion. There is also the issue of enforcing the law – it is now far easier for officials to see when rules are not being followed.
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