Covid-19: expert answers to outdoor questions

Posted by Rob Dyer on 02/07/2020
Should you wear a mask outdoors?

What's the right social distance? Where might local lockdowns be imposed? Will there be a second wave? Should you wear a mask outdoors? As lockdown eases, we ask Professor Ian Hall for the answers from an outdoor perspective. Ian is Director of the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, a keen climber and a BMC member.

COVID19 seems to be reducing, but what are the risks of release from lockdown? Professor Ian Hall, Director of the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and member of the BMC's Covid Advisory Group, gives an update from a climbing and walking perspective.

The number of new cases of COVID19 is falling in most parts of the UK at present. This is due to the reduction in the number of social contacts any individual who was infected with the virus would make as a result of the lockdown arrangements.  One major issue is that many people who test positive for COVID19 don’t have symptoms, and hence could unwittingly be passing the infection on to others without realising it.  The number of contacts anyone who is positive for the virus has will dictate the rate of spread in the community.  As we come out of lockdown, the number of social contacts will increase and so the risk is that new cases will also start to increase.  

There is also a risk that because we are now over three months from the start of lockdown, and most people have either not had COVID19 or have only had mild symptoms, people will take this disease less seriously and be less careful about complying with guidance.  However, it is important to remember that COVID19 remains a potentially dangerous condition: globally as of 2 July there have been over 10 million cases and over 500,000 people have died from COVID19.  So, obviously it is important we all do what we can to avoid a rise in new cases.

I would also emphasise that lockdown arrangements currently vary between the different countries in the UK so it is important to stick to the guidance that applies depending on where you are.  This will be particularly important as travel between countries for climbing and walking becomes possible.

Where might local lockdowns be imposed?

Each area is monitoring the number of new cases on a continuing basis, which gives a local view on whether or not cases are increasing or decreasing.  However, because there is more testing going on, an increase in the number of cases locally could just be due to this increase in the number of tests performed.  It is possible to adjust for this and identify regions where the rate of appearance of new cases is actually increasing: this is why Leicester has had to extend local lockdown arrangements for longer than the rest of England.  Local lockdowns are a way to try to prevent a more widespread increase in cases.

In general, it is likely that the areas most likely to be affected by local lockdowns are going to be those with higher densities of population where more social contacts will generally be made.

How many people have already had COVID19?

We now can make a better estimate of how many people have already had COVID19 because we have information from studies which have measured whether or not people have developed antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID19.  At present it looks like just under 7% of the population has antibodies to COVID19, although there are differences depending on region and occupation: people living in the London area and health care workers in general are amongst those most likely to test positive for antibodies.

Will there be a second wave of COVID19?

The hope is that by using local lockdowns we can avoid a major second wave of COVID19.  However, many doctors are worried about a second wave of infection in the late autumn, which would coincide with the time that hospitals are often at their busiest.  Because less than 7% of the population show evidence of having antibodies, there is obviously the potential for many more people to be infected if cases start to rise again.

Is 1m social distancing as safe as 2m?

The simple answer to this is that we don’t know for certain, but it would seem logical that there will be more chance of spread from a case to others as social distancing is reduced.  Different countries across the world have different recommended minimum distances, with 1m being the lowest suggested.  Modelling suggests the increased risk of exposure is between 2 and 10 times higher with a distance of 1m rather than 2m.  However, the risk also depends on environmental factors: the risk in an enclosed space is likely to be much higher than outdoors.  Keeping to 2m still makes sense where possible, and for walkers and climbers, where outdoors it is usually fairly easy to keep 2m apart, I would recommend we stick to the 2m guidance.

It is also worth noting that guidance is likely to vary in the different parts of the UK: Scotland for example may not move to a 1m minimum distance.

When should I wear a mask when travelling or outdoors?

When to wear a mask remains a somewhat controversial issue.  The main advantage of masks (excepting the very specialised ones used by health care workers when treating patients who may have COVID19) is that they prevent spread of droplets to others.  So if by chance you have COVID19 but don’t have any symptoms, you are probably less likely to expose your contacts if you wear a mask.  However, ordinary masks don’t prevent you from inhaling the droplets spread by others which contain virus, as these are too small to be stopped by non-specialist masks. 

My view is that there is a case for using masks, especially in situations where prolonged exposure to others in an indoor space is likely.  As with social distancing, guidance is likely to keep changing: at present for example use of masks is required on public transport in England, and in Scotland mandating use of masks in shops is being considered.  I think however use of masks when out walking or climbing is not normally likely to be of much benefit.  When climbing walls reopen this will be an issue which will need careful consideration. Clearly, if you have symptoms suggestive of COVID19 you should not be out walking or climbing and you should self-isolate and contact the relevant testing services (see below).

What should I do if I develop any symptoms suggestive of COVID19?

If you have symptoms suggestive of COVID19 (in particular fever, new cough, or loss of smell or taste) you should self-isolate at home and contact the relevant testing service to arrange to be tested.  Your close contacts should also self-isolate for 14 days.  Full guidance is available online.

Do we have any treatments yet?

For patients with COVID19 admitted to hospital and requiring oxygen treatment or admission to critical care two drugs have shown benefit in clinical trials.  These are remdesivir, which shortens length of hospital stay, and dexamethasone which also reduces the risk of death.

When might we have a vaccine?

There are many vaccines in development, and some have commenced clinical trials, but whether or not they will be effective is not yet known.  It is very unlikely we will have a vaccine for general use in less than 6 months.

Is there anything in particular that BMC supporters can do to help at the moment?

I think it is really important for BMC members to be seen to be examples of good practice, especially as we often travel to rural areas where there may be considerable anxiety amongst local communities.  I previously pointed out the need for good hand hygiene and also for being socially responsible: as lockdown is eased, this will be increasingly important. 

We can also help our local communities by supporting local businesses, some of which have been badly affected by COVID19.  Helping collect litter and avoiding problems through poor parking and other poor behaviour will all help.  Needless to say, as lockdown is released the weather has deteriorated somewhat, but even so avoiding BBQs is sensible to avoid moorland fires.


More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19

🌳 Can I start climbing / hillwalking? Yes, but be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus. Read our latest advice for July here and for the general return to climbing here

🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full October update here

😷 When and how will the walls reopen?  In England it's July 25th Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here

✈️ Can I now travel abroad again? Get the latest answers to going abroad with travel restrictions now easing

🛒 Is the BMC shop open? Yes - we officially reopened at the start of July!

🏡 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? The latest club huts update and all you need to know

📜 Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO

🚗 What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on

As the climbing walls, crags and mountains start to open, we wanted to say thanks to every BMC member who supported us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t have made it without you.

If you liked what we did, then tell your friends about us: www.thebmc.co.uk/join


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