‘We are on a journey, but it is not over yet’

THIS is UK Government advice for England only.

Spring has arrived, the days are getting longer and, with perfect timing, coronavirus restrictions are being relaxed.

As of Monday, we can again all meet up with friends outside as a group of six or as two whole households in public places or private gardens.

Formally organised outdoor sport is also allowed and in larger numbers, so long as it is Covid-secure.

Businesses putting on childcare and supervised activities for children can now host outdoor children’s activities and outdoor parent-and-child groups for up to 15 people (not counting those aged under five).

Naturally, this will come as a huge relief, but it’s important everyone continues to observe the key rules of social distancing, handwashing and, when necessary, mask wearing: hands, face, space, plus fresh air.

Lifting lockdown rules is possible because cases of coronavirus are falling rapidly along with the numbers having to go into hospital.

The national vaccination programme has seen nearly 30 million people receive their jab. But it’s not the end, only the beginning of the end.

“We’re on a journey and we’re not at the end of that journey yet,” says Professor Tim Sharpe, right, a member of the UK Government Sage (Science Advisory Group for Emergencies) environmental and modelling group.

“So, although a lot of people have been vaccinated, a lot more haven’t and are still at risk, and those risks are still the same. Until a much larger number of people are vaccinated, there will still be significant risk of catching it from other people.

“What you don’t want to do is run before you can walk and then have to roll back. That would be a worst case scenario.”

The reason we’re now able to meet outside again is due to strong scientific evidence of the increased safety of being in fresh air. A recent Public Health England report into factors contributing to transmission reviewed evidence from several countries and found very little proof of outdoor transmission of Covid-19.

The small number of cases where it did occur were associated with gatherings that involved close interaction for an extended period or where people mixed together indoors and outside.

Bonding exercise

Annli Beard, 52, from Harpenden in Hertfordshire

“I love exercising outdoors with other people and that’s been completely disrupted,” Annli says. “I’ve done a few Zoom classes but jumping around your living room just isn’t the same. I don’t have the incentive.”

With her daughter at university since September, she found the latest lockdown harder – made worse by the absence of weekly sessions with Camp Green fitness group, an organised class that trains in nearby Rothamstead Park.

For Annli it’s not just the exercise, it’s the friendships she has made with other members. “When we finish many of us head off for a coffee and have a chat, it’s a real mix of people from lots of backgrounds but we talk about everything.

“These are friendships I’ve made independently and they’re valuable to me. I can’t wait to get back – even if it is going to hurt!”

“When you are outdoors, especially if you are two metres plus away from somebody, the level of concentration of any virus that might be in your vicinity – perhaps from somebody who might not know they have the virus – is so much lower,” says Sage member Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, director of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge.

“Because the air sweeping away any virus is much greater outdoor than it is inside.”

While meeting outside is permitted, you still can’t travel outside your local area or go on holiday, mix indoors with people that you don’t live with or aren’t in your support bubble. And that’s for a good reason.

“Most transmission has happened indoors,” says Sharpe. “Buildings are where people come together for work or to socialise. They are where you have people in close proximity, talking and interacting.

“The second issue is that the virus can accumulate over time, so you’re breathing its particles. If you’re further away it’s less of a risk but if you remain in that space for a long time and it’s poorly ventilated, they build up.”

As we can all get together outdoors again, what other advice do the experts offer?

“Don’t let your guard down,” says Sharpe. “When people meet, they start off with the very best of intentions, then they forget the rules.”

“Don’t make exceptions because you trust someone,” says Professor Brooke Rogers OBE, professor of behavioural science and security at King’s College London, also a Sage independent adviser.

“If you multiply that across all the households across the country, that has potential for the virus to pick up again. Ask yourself, would you feel safe if everybody else was making the same exception as you?”

Let’s get together again, but let’s get together safely.

The dos and don’ts

The Do’s

● Wear a protective face covering
● Wash hands regularly
● Observe the two metre rule
● Work from home if possible

The Don’ts

● Mix with more than five other people if they’re part of another household
● Share drinks and snacks
● Think being vaccinated makes the virus disappear

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