HuffPost UK reader Harry asked: “What are the riskiest and safest activities if restrictions are eased on June 21?”
For some time now, June 21 has been pencilled as the day England’s Covid restrictions lift. But whether or not ‘freedom day’ will go ahead hangs in the balance, as cases and hospitalisations are rising, which experts attribute to the prevalence of the Delta variant in the UK.
It’s hoped that by June 21, all legal limits on social contact could be removed, meaning you could meet up with as many people as you wanted to, indoors or outside, rather than abiding by the rule of six.
Any businesses that have remained closed since last year, like nightclubs, are also due to reopen and crowd restrictions on large events and performances are set to be eased – meaning concerts, gigs, weddings, theatre performances and more could go ahead with hundreds, if not thousands, of attendees.
But how risky are these activities with a new variant on the cards and many still unvaccinated?
What’s the risk?
In 2020, a fascinating infographic did the rounds on social media, charting activities that encourage the virus to spread. The heat map of risky (in red) and not-so-risky (in yellow) activities suggested nightclubs were the ultimate high-risk activity, followed by seeing a concert or play, attending an indoor party, visiting an indoor bar, attending a sports stadium, and going to church.
Also considered high risk was attending a wedding or funeral, hugging or shaking hands, stopping wearing a face mask, going out with someone you don’t know well, visiting an amusement park and eating at a buffet.
Fast forward nine months and these risks remain the same – but it’s important to discuss how we define risk at this stage.
Pre-vaccination, people were pretty much on a level playing field in terms of not having any protection against the virus. But now, there are those who are fully vaccinated and have a greater level of protection, versus the partially vaccinated who have some protection, versus those who aren’t vaccinated at all.
If you’re young and have been vaccinated (or even partially vaccinated) the risk of you ending up in hospital with severe Covid is pretty low. But if you’re older, male, have underlying issues or are immunocompromised, the risk increases.
Even with both vaccine doses under your belt, you could still technically catch Covid. But if you did, you’d probably end up with zero or very few coronavirus symptoms. If you then were to pass it onto someone else who wasn’t vaccinated, however, that could become problematic. The Zoe Covid study estimates the current risk of new daily Covid infection is one in 2,908 in unvaccinated people, one in 7,091 in partially vaccinated people (after one dose) and one in 22,455 for those who are fully vaxxed.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, suggests thinking of the following when assessing your transmission risk: “Are you indoors or outdoors? If you’re indoors, how crowded is that place – is it heaving and you’re shoulder-to-shoulder? How good is the ventilation? And how long are you in there?” he says.
Remember these 4 factors to lower your risk:
:: Being indoors is more risky than being outdoors.
:: Crowds are more risky than areas where people are spaced apart.
:: Indoor venues with poor ventilation are riskier than those with good ventilation (ie. windows/doors open, air conditioning in place).
:: Spending several hours with a group of people, rather than an hour or two, is more risky.
Meeting up with more than six people could be risky. But it depends on the environment you meet in and how you behave. If you’re hugging and kissing lots of people, and alcohol is involved, it’s likely to raise your risk of catching the virus compared to if you’re respecting each other’s personal space.
It’s pretty low risk to sit on a beach with loads of other people, even a relatively crowded beach, suggests Prof Hunter, as long as you’re not right up close in each other’s faces. Face-to-face contact is more risky than sitting side by side. “Going to the beach, walks in the countryside, sitting in the park – all of those things are probably low risk,” he tells HuffPost UK.
In contrast, anything crowded, indoors, with poor ventilation is likely to be the most risky for transmission, which is why nightclubs don’t look favourable.
Likewise, if you’re meeting up with a huge group of pals for a bottomless brunch or house party, it’s certainly more on the risky side than meeting them park-side for a picnic. Recently, scientists from the National Institutes of Health in the US suggested having a chinwag with your mates in a restaurant or pub is probably one of the riskiest activities for spreading Covid-19.
What about mass events like going to the theatre or watching the footy? Well, the good news is initial results from the Events Research Programme show it’s possible to reopen larger venues without huge outbreaks. A series of pilot events involving 58,000 people resulted in just 15 positive cases.
Large-scale indoor and outdoor events were analysed including the Brit Awards (4,000 indoor attendees), the FA Cup Final (21,000 seated outdoor spectators) and a Liverpool club night (3,000 people dancing inside).
While these events were carried out after a long period of lockdown, when cases were generally very low, it’s clear some interventions – such as altering the layout of the venue, testing before the event, wearing face coverings and improving ventilation – had an impact and could be useful in reopening society.
From June 21, regardless of which restrictions lift, it’s important to still be careful. The latest statistics from Public Health England (PHE) show that at a national level, case rates have increased in most age groups this past week, with infections now highest in those aged 20-29.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE’s medical director, said: “Once again we are seeing cases rapidly rise across the country and the Delta variant is now dominant. The increase is primarily in younger age groups who are yet to receive the vaccine and we are seeing more hospital admissions.
“The vaccine rollout is a huge success, however there are many millions who still need one or two doses and protection is not immediate. Therefore, follow the guidance and remember it is safer outside. Practise good hand hygiene and wear face coverings in enclosed spaces.”