Meeting others outdoors still poses Covid risks - could it be banned?

Monday, 11th January 2021, 4:00 pm
Updated Monday, 11th January 2021, 4:01 pm

With Government ministers raising the alarm over compliance with coronavirus restrictions, there is speculation that rules   in the UK may become even tighter.

Currently, mixing with other households is allowed only in an extremely restricted scenario - outdoors, socially distanced, and for exercise purposes.

Some officials fear, however, that this allowance is being exploited by people to socialise. The Telegraph has quoted a government source as suggesting that outdoor exercise with other households could be banned as a result.

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The possible change to rules has raised questions about the risks associated with outdoor interactions - especially in relation to the new strain of coronavirus, which is estimated to be around 70 per cent more transmissible than earlier variations.

How risky are outdoor interactions?

Outdoor interaction with others is known to be far less risky than indoor interaction, as virus particles disperse far faster in fresh air than in unventilated settings. A recent review of peer-reviewed papers into outdoor transmission found that, on average, the odds of virus transmission are 18.7 times higher indoors than outdoors.

Yet, while outdoor interaction is less risky overall, it's certainly not impossible to catch the virus outside if proper precautions are not taken.

Precautions include wearing a mask, social distancing and handwashing, all of which decrease the risk of viral transmission.

The review found that factors like the frequency of personal contact, the duration of contact, a lack of PPE and occasional indoor contact within a largely outdoor event were usually associated with reports of infection outdoors.

With the new variant of coronavirus estimated to be more transmissible than previous variations, it's more important than ever to observe social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene when meeting others - even if it's in an outdoor setting.

Will all outdoor mixing be banned?

Part of the Government's current concern is that those meeting someone from another household outdoors are assuming they are perfectly safe from viral transmission simply by merit of being outside.

Vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, expressed concerns on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that people were not following rules closely enough, saying: “I’m worried about some of the pictures I’ve seen of social interactions in parks, if you have to exercise you can go out for exercise only."

He said that while the Government doesn't "want to use tougher measures", it will be "reviewing" restrictions, indicating that further toughening of measures could be on the way.