How To Stay Safe When Visiting The Beach

Crowds, public loos and busy local shops could all pose a problem.
Bournemouth beach. 
Bournemouth beach. 

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With Downing Street warning that “no travel is risk-free”, Brits have been flocking to the nation’s beaches to get their fix of sand and sea. But is it safe to do so?

For a while now, we’ve seen images of busy coastlines across the UK. Some people worry the behaviour will contribute towards a second wave, while others blame the government, not beachgoers, for unclear guidance causing crowds to gather.

If you’re determined to get some sea air during the heatwave, there are some things you can do to limit the virus risk for yourself and local residents, says Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia.

In theory, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t sit on a quiet beach, he tells HuffPost UK. “The virus will not survive long in the open air, particularly on a long, sunny day.” However, problems occur if everyone has the same idea and beaches become overcrowded, making distancing impossible to maintain.

“If you have children – who will still insist on running up to and playing with other children, who may be from another part of the country as far as you know – that is a problem,” says Prof. Hunter, who works with the World Health Organisation to produce guidance on sanitation and disease.

It could also be particularly hard to socially distance in densely populated areas around the beach, such as the car park or footpaths leading to the coast. “A whole load of people trudging in the same direction along a public footpath, [is] quite prolonged contact and could pose a risk,” he says.

Southend-on-Sea. 
Southend-on-Sea. 

One simple way to reduce this risk is avoid hotspots that have been hitting the news, such as Bournemouth Beach or Southend-on-Sea. Instead, do your research and head to a lesser-known area.

Turn around and go home if you arrive at the beach and it looks packed, says Prof. Hunter. Remember, even if everyone there seems healthy, someone could be infected asymptomatically.

“If you get there and you can adequately socially distance, fine, stay there for a couple of hours, be sensible,” he says. “But if it starts to fill up and you realise that nobody else is paying attention to social distancing, I would leave.”

Another obstacle (and inevitability) is needing to use the loo if you’re planning a day trip. Prof. Hunter says any situation where you’re forced into close proximity with other people should be avoided.

“If you do use public toilets, for God’s sake wash your hands properly afterwards,” he says. “People so often don’t wash their hands and that’s disgusting at the best of times, but during a Covid pandemic, it’s criminal.”

There are also local residents to think about. If you’re travelling from an area of the country with high levels of the disease, to an area with low levels of the disease, you risk bringing the infection with you and jeopardising the health of local residents, confirms Prof. Hunter.

“If people get there and do not observe social distancing, hit the shops in large numbers and come into contact with locals needing to use those shops for their essentials – that’s where the main concern for residents would be,” he says.

You might want to consider bringing a packed lunch and other items you may need to avoid local shops. You should also take into account the ethical issue of whether your beach trip will prevent someone local from being able to enjoy their nearest outdoor area – for those without a garden, the beach could be their closest outside space.

Dr Amir Khan, Good Morning Britain’s resident health expert, warned people heading to the beach not to become complacent in the sunshine. “There is evidence that strong UV light can kill the virus within 30 minutes,” he says.

“There was a study published in a journal called Protobiology and Protochemistry, that showed strong UV light can actually damage the hard case of the virus and kill it. But that’s only on surfaces, it doesn’t take into account the main way the virus is spread, which is through droplets.

“So if you’re standing within two metres of someone and they are sneezing or even talking loudly, they can pass droplets on to you that you inhale in, and no amount of UV light will stop that from happening. You can’t rely on sunlight to protect you from the virus, it’s really important to say that.”

Dr Khan added that washing your hands at the beach can be difficult, so remember to pack hand sanitiser, as well as a mask if you plan to go inside shops.