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We’ve been told we can sunbathe in parks, visit garden centres and travel to open spaces to exercise (within England) – all of which will be mighty tempting over the bank holiday weekend. But is it safe to do so?
Turns out there’s a reason they call it the great outdoors. Exposure to sunshine has been identified as one way of killing off the virus quickly. A study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found that 90% of coronavirus particles deactivated within 10 minutes when exposed to ultraviolet light from the midday sun.
Researchers simulated the intensity of the sun at 40 degrees latitude – roughly equivalent to Spain – and then examined viral particles in saliva left on surfaces.
In conditions mimicking the winter sun in Spain, 90% of particles were destroyed in less than 15 minutes, while in conditions simulating summer sun, the virus lasted 6.8 minutes, the Times reported. It had previously been suggested that the virus could last on surfaces for up to 72 hours, so this is quite the reduction.
It’s not the temperature that kills the virus (the World Health Organisation says the virus spreads in both hot and cold climates), rather the ultraviolet light. UV light is even being used in New York City to disinfect the subway and buses.
So, while we should continue to practice social distancing of 2m whenever we leave our homes to avoid coming into contact with an infected person or spreading the virus ourselves, experts agree that the chances of picking it up outdoors are far lower than catching it in enclosed spaces.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, also confirmed in one of the prime minister’s daily press briefings that outdoor environments are far less risky than indoor environments due to their being more space and a natural breeze to disperse any germs.
Back in April, he said: “If you think about being outdoors, first of all, by and large, distancing between human beings is greater anyway, but if you just stand still for a moment and just experience normal breezes and air currents around you, you absolutely get a sense that any kind of plumes of anything are going to be very rapidly dispersed. “It is absolutely a biological truism that outdoor environments are much less [of a] risk than indoor environments,” he said.
He’s not alone in his thinking. Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health from the University of Southampton, tells HuffPost UK there is already “good evidence” to show risks of respiratory infectious disease transmission are lower outdoors.
“We also know that an indoor well-ventilated environment also lowers these risks,” he says, as it can result in “wider dispersal” of the virus from any infected person and therefore anyone nearby is exposed to a lower viral load.
When you’re outside, there are also fewer surfaces for the virus to land on that can be touched by another person. “Being outdoors of course does not prevent transmission altogether, but it does greatly reduce the risk of new infections,” says Dr Head.
It’s still important to practice social distancing and wash your hands regularly (or carry hand sanitiser), but at least you can feel a little less worried next time you head to the park.