Covid doesn’t mean we can’t have fun

There’s no scientific reason to stop people enjoying themselves outside

Jemima Kelly 

People enjoy the seaside in Brighton, southern England. There is no evidence to suggest beaches have led to a single outbreak of the virus © PA

As temperatures soared to their highest levels of the year last weekend, we saw the return of that 2020 classic: the telephoto-lens shot of sun-scorched Brits packed tightly together on beaches, along with headlines like “What pandemic? 

Bournemouth Beach absolutely rammed on ‘busiest day ever’” and disapproving grumbles on social media.

In Australia, where a lockdown has been reimposed after a rise in Covid cases, police have threatened to close Bondi Beach, with photos showing pram-pushing mothers being stopped for not wearing masks on the paths that run alongside the coast. 

“#COVIDIOTS” is the common social media response to images of people daring to have a nice time at the seaside — the term has been trending on Twitter in recent days.

What’s a bit odd about all this outrage is that there is no evidence to suggest beaches have led to a single outbreak of the virus. 

“The chances of human-to-human transmission is very low in that environment,” Professor Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist and former WHO director, tells me. 

Offices, on the other hand, have caused plenty of outbreaks: over 500 were reported in the second half of 2020 — more than from supermarkets, construction sites, warehouses, restaurants and cafés combined, according to the BBC.

So why does nobody moan about all the people who have chosen to return to the office simply because they prefer it to being stuck in the house all day? 

Although we now know that the virus is airborne and therefore spreads far more readily inside than outside, it seems that nobody worries about these workers because, unlike beachgoers, they are not assumed to be having a good time.

As science writer Tom Chivers tweeted over the weekend: “18 months into the pandemic we’re still taking disapproving photos of people on crowded beaches. 

They’re outdoors! 

It’s good! 

The virus is not spread by fun!”

It’s not just beaches that are targeted by logic-lacking spoilsports. 

When the outdoor pool finally reopened at an apartment complex in Spain’s Costa del Sol this month, residents were told sun loungers were prohibited; if they wanted to sunbathe, they must do so on towels on the ground. 

Julia Jerzycka, whose 83-year-old mother lives in the complex and would find lying on a towel difficult, gathered residents’ signatures and convinced management to reverse the decision. 

But only personal sun loungers were permitted because communal chairs apparently posed too much of a threat from surface transmission.

Of course, the buzzer to enter the complex is touched far more frequently by many more hands than the chairs, but Jerzycka says that management doesn’t appear to have thought of putting hand sanitiser alongside it, and no soap is provided in the showers by the pool either. 

“It feels like they’re not trying to implement the things that would actually make sense,” she says. 

“It’s about the removal of fun . . . but also they’re not even using their own logic.”

Part of the reason that seemingly irrational rules are being set by such petty tyrants is that communications by governments and scientists have been inconsistent throughout the pandemic. 

Initially we were told that the virus was not airborne and was spread by respiratory droplets that land on surfaces, then easily pass on to other humans — a transmission vector now believed to be rare.

But some people just seem to have an issue with others having fun during a pandemic. 

There seems to be an idea that not having a good time could somehow help contain the spread of Covid-19.

The virus, though, doesn’t discriminate between the virtuous and the degenerate. 

With most restrictions in Britain now lifted while cases and deaths climb, it’s important that we remain cautious. 

But we need not equate caution with asceticism.

So if you find yourself whingeing about how packed the beach is next time you’re at the seaside, perhaps remind yourself that you are part of the reason it is crowded — surprisingly easy to forget, it seems. 

Then enjoy it! 

Life is too short to waste energy trying to prevent ourselves, and other people, from having a jolly nice time.

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