Fresh air and sunshine are protective against the coronavirus

Fresh air and sunshine CAN curb the spread of the coronavirus, says scientist on Government’s SAGE panel

  • Professor Alan Penn, a member of SAGE, reassured the outdoors was safe
  • He said: ‘The science suggests that being outside in sunlight, with good ventilation, are both highly protective against transmission of the virus’
  • People are now allowed to spend as much time as they like outdoors
  • But they must stay 2m (6’6″) away from others and can only meet one person
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Spending time in the fresh air and sunshine can reduce someone’s risk of catching the coronavirus, a scientific adviser to the Government has said.

People are now allowed to spend as much time as they like outdoors – as long as they keep socially distanced from others.

The first step out of the draconian lockdown, which has now been in place for 52 days, was announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday and began on Wednesday.

Scientists have said the minor tweak in rules is because there is a ‘low risk’ of the virus spreading between people outdoors. 

Professor Alan Penn, a member of SAGE, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, reassured that those who flock to the parks that the risk of catching the virus outside is lower.

He said: ‘The science suggests that being outside in sunlight, with good ventilation, are both highly protective against transmission of the virus.’

Other scientists say they ‘totally agree’ with Professor Penn and advocate spending more time outdoors, where the virus is less likely to survive.

People are more likely to catch the infection in enclosed spaces with other people, where ventilation is poor and strangers touch the same surfaces regularly. 

Viruses may be less able to survive on surfaces outside in sunlight, as UV damages their genetic material, meaning people are less likely to pick them up, scientists say.

Fresh air and sunshine are protective against the coronavirus, a government scientific adviser has said. Pictured, people sitting and sunbathing in Regent’s Park, May 9

Professor Alan Penn, a member of SAGE, told MPs on Wednesday: ‘The science suggests that being outside in sunlight, with good ventilation, are both highly protective against transmission of the virus’

Professor Penn, the chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, has attended four key SAGE meetings with ministers.

He spoke to MPs on Wednesday to explain why people’s outdoor activities are not restricted any more.

The Government has said people can exercise as often as they like, an extension on the current one hour, and sunbathers won’t be fined for heading to parks – so long as they obey strict social distancing rules. 

People can meet with up to one person from outside their household, as long as they stay a two metre distance apart and meet in a public place, not a house or garden. 

It’s also acceptable to ‘drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance’ as long as they are not in other parts of the UK.

But the slight relaxation on movement does not come without risks. If people break the rules, infection levels will rise again.

WILL SUMMER ‘KILL’ THE VIRUS?

Studies suggest heat and humidity that is soon to come to the UK will only slightly reduce the transmission rate – not stop it in its tracks – which is why experts say being outdoors is ‘low risk’.  

For example, the most recently published study, on May 9, said transmission risk was only reduced by about 1.5 per cent for every degree Fahrenheit above 77F (25C). 

US and Canadian researchers analysed more than 370,000 cases in thousands of different cities in North America to come to the conclusion ‘summer is not going to make this go away’.

Another study by researchers at Beihang and Singhua universities, however, suggested rising temperatures and humidity ‘significantly’ reduced the spread.

Using their equation, if the temperature increased by 15 degrees C, or 27 degrees F, an infected person would spread coronavirus to about 0.6 fewer people.  

The scientists also pointed out that in the early dates of the outbreaks, countries with relatively lower air temperature and lower humidity, like Korea, Japan and Iran, saw severe outbreaks. 

But warmer and more humid countries, like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, did not. 

A separate study that compared transmission rates with the weather in 224 Chinese cities concluded there was no relationship.  

‘Our analysis suggested that ambient temperature has no significant impact on the transmission ability of SARS-CoV-2,’ the researchers at Fudan University said.

‘It is premature to count on warmer weather to control COVID-19, and relying on seasonality to curb this pandemic can be a dangerous line of thought.

‘Changing seasons may help but are unlikely to stop transmission.’  

Commenting on the contradictory research, Professor Hunter said: ‘The coronavirus might spread less rapidly because people tend to be outdoors in the summer more anyway.

‘It’s an indirect impact – we are not as crammed in together during the summer. Schools are closed, people go away on holiday, and people sit in open air to eat rather than in restaurants. 

‘But, and there is a big but, a lot of the evidence for that is based on seasonal illnesses [like the flu].’ 

Speaking at the Science and Technology Select Committee, Professor Penn said the outdoors is ‘protective’ against the virus.

He told MPs: ‘The route of transmission comes in three main forms. It comes from droplets, which is where the two-metre rule comes in, because droplets fall to the ground within two metres to a high degree. 

‘It comes from aerosols which float around more but carry less virus, and the touching of objects.’ 

When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, droplets that contain traces of the virus fly into the air from their nose or mouth. 

Anyone who is within close proximity of that person can breathe those droplets into their lungs. But scientists say that two metres (6’6″) away is a safe distance.

Fallen droplets can land on surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, or desk appliances like keyboards, from which another person can pick up the virus. 

The evidence that the virus can linger in the air is less certain, but not impossible. 

‘Most of the rules around what we should do, such as washing your hands, and not touching your face, are components of that transmission rule,’ Professor Penn said.

‘The way SAGE has judged the use of outside spaces is that this is one of the lowest-risk forms of activity.’  

Professor Paul Hunter, a leading expert in diseases from University of East Anglia, said he ‘totally agreed’ with the comments.  

He told MailOnline: ‘The big thing about being outdoors is actually the droplets will be blown away quite quickly usually if there is a breeze.

‘When you are talking to people outdoors, you should try to stand where the wind is moving across you and not towards someone else.

‘The evidence [for COVID-19] is that aerosols are not that important anyway. But they tend to get inactivated quite quickly in sunlight so they wouldn’t stay around for very long.’

Keith Neal, an emeritus professor in the epidemiology of infectious diseases, University of Nottingham, explained that sunlight damages DNA and RNA in the virus, which would kill it. 

‘How quickly in affects COVID-19 I have not seen any work, but viruses left on surfaces outside will dry out and be damaged by UV light in sunlight,’ he told MailOnline.

He added: ‘I totally agree that outside is very much safer than inside – you can be further apart and conditions outside are less conducive to virus survival than inside. 

‘I would not have used the wording “protective against transmission” but more on the lines “very significantly lower risk of infection” – it’s the same thing really.’ 

Exposure to sunlight also boost levels of vitamin D, which is begging to rouse interest as a preventative against COVID-19. 

Professor Neal said: ‘There is some evidence that vitamin D supplements reduce the risk of respiratory virus infections, and there is good evidence that vitamin D deficiency impairs the immune system.’ 

Spanish researchers have recently started a trial to see whether vitamin D’s anti-inflammatory properties can prevent COVID-19 symptoms from worsening. 

Public health experts and scientists alike seem to agree that the virus poses less of a threat outdoors or in warm weather to some degree.

But it doesn’t mean summer is going to kill off the virus.

Studies suggest heat and humidity that is soon to come to the UK will only slightly reduce the transmission rate – not stop it in its tracks – which is why experts say being outdoors is ‘low risk’.

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