Should You Go To The Beach This Bank Holiday Weekend?

Cornwall and Devon are experiencing Covid spikes, but what are the risks?

We’re flocking to the seaside in droves this summer with staycations continuing to be popular. But our new-found love of the great British coastline is having a big effect on these small communities.

A huge influx of visitors and a lack of social distancing in Cornwall has led to a “perfect storm” in cases of coronavirus, according to the Mayor of Newquay, Louis Gardner. “Our accommodation is at 100% capacity, our hospitality venues are full, there’s no social distance in place,” he told the PA news agency.

On Monday, health officials said they were investigating 4,700 cases of coronavirus which they think are linked to the Boardmasters festival, which took place in Newquay, nearly two weeks ago. The cases are spread across the country, but around 800 people impacted are living in Cornwall.

The south-western county continues to see a higher-than-average volume of visitors, with concerns this will cause the outbreak to spread. Now, the Cornish tourist board has urged people not to make last-minute trips.

“We are asking people not to come unless they have booked ahead and request they take a lateral flow test before, during, and after (their) stay so that (people) can be safe and help us to manage the current spike,” Malcolm Bell, the chief executive of Visit Cornwall, said.

Other seaside destinations are also experiencing Covid spikes. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have the highest rate of cases in England, at around 769.7 cases per 100,000 people. This is followed by Sedgemoor in Somerset (724.2 cases per 100,000 people), West Devon (680.5), Teignbridge in Devon (659.8) and Torbay, also in Devon (651.9).

It all makes you think: should we scrap seaside plans this bank holiday? As always, there’s no clear cut answer, but here’s the information you need to help you make the right decision for you.

Holiday-makers on Fistral Beach on August 19, 2021 in Newquay, Cornwall, England.
Hugh Hastings via Getty Images
Holiday-makers on Fistral Beach on August 19, 2021 in Newquay, Cornwall, England.

How risky is a trip to the seaside?

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine and expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, says the individual risk associated with a seaside trip is fairly low, especially if you’re a healthy adult and double vaccinated.

“Looking at Cornwall, the current surge started in early June and prior to that there had been relatively few cases, so part of the reason is probably lower population immunity,” he tells HuffPost UK. “Certainly, someone who is double vaccinated isn’t going to be at substantial additional risk if they spend a day out at the seaside.”

Dr Julian Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester, agrees that the beach itself does not necessarily pose a large risk to health, due to the breeze caused by convective heating.

“During the day, the sun heats the land more quickly than the sea - so the land gets warmer than the sea, so hot air over the land rises and the c–oler air from the sea moves towards the land to take its place,” he explains. “At night, the land cools faster than the sea so the air over the sea remains warmer, and the breeze reverses direction, moving from land to sea. So there is nearly always a breeze on the beach – either towards the land or towards the sea – and this constantly dilutes and blows the virus away.”

When you’re outside, the sun’s radiation (even on cloudy days) can inactivate airborne viruses, he adds. This will limit the spread of Covid. However, a risk does occur when you come back from the beach and head into indoor, poorly ventilated areas like pubs and restaurants. This is where we should show caution, he says.

What is the impact on other people?

The Covid risk may be low outdoors, but most of us are likely to visit public toilets, shops, cafes and restaurants during a trip to the seaside – and this is where transmission is likely to occur.

While it’s true that seaside businesses need customers, a boom in tourism during a pandemic can negatively impact business and even force them to close.

Veryan Palmer, director of the family-owned Headland Hotel in Newquay, said seven of her staff out of 211 are currently isolating after going to Boardmasters and testing positive.

“The county is very busy at the moment and lots of businesses are closed because their staff are off isolating and recruitment for hospitality,” she told PA.

Because of this, Malcolm Bell from Visit Cornwall also urged holidaymakers to avoid hot-spot destinations. “There are too many occurrences of overcrowding in honey pots,” he said. “We are asking visitors to look at visiting other parts of Cornwall. We have over 300 beaches and lovely parts that can cope with visitors.”

To limit your impact, research alternative parts of the coastline and consider bringing a packed lunch or ordering a takeout to reduce time spent indoors.

It’s important to remember that you can still catch Covid, even after you’ve been vaccinated, particularly if you come into contact with the Delta variant.

While you may not have symptoms, you may pass the virus to a younger person who hasn’t been double vaccinated yet, or someone with a suppressed immune system who is more vulnerable. You should therefore follow the advice to take lateral flow tests before and after your visit.

Travel is the story of our summer. The rules (and traffic lights) are always changing, but one thing’s clear, we dream of being Anywhere But Here. This seasonal series offers you clear-headed travel advice, ideas-packed staycation guides, clever swaps and hacks, and a healthy dose of wanderlust.

HuffPost UK