Following the relaxing of UK restrictions on social contact on July 19, something that we may be starting to consider more and more is how we can protect ourselves (and others) from the virus in crowded situations, or when we’re in crowded spaces, such as bars, restaurants and other venues. 

The Events Research Programme has looked at the impact of Covid-19 in crowded environments, and found that the more people there are in a crowded area, the more it can affect ventilation in that space, which can then lead to a greater risk of transmission of the virus.

With these findings in mind, we spoke to Dr Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead at Treated.com, about ways in which we can safeguard against the virus when we’re in crowded places.  

Check for any Covid-19 symptoms beforehand

You should self-assess for symptoms of Covid-19 before you go anywhere that may be  crowded. So check to make sure that you don’t have a high temperature, any loss or change to your sense of taste or smell, and a new, continuous cough. 

‘If you’ve been notified by NHS Track and Trace that you need to self-isolate (or if you’ve been alerted to having to self-isolate for travel purposes) it’s very important that you do so to minimise the spread of the virus,’ says Dr Atkinson. 

‘Self-isolating is a requirement by law if you’ve been contacted by NHS Track and Trace, and you may be fined if you don’t.’

‘In the event that you experience any symptoms of Covid-19, you should get a PCR test as soon as you can. This test needs to be carried out within the first 8 days of having symptoms, and it’s available for free on the GOV.UK website.’

‘Approximately 1 in 3 people have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms, so even if the virus isn’t noticeable to you, you may still have it and be able to transmit it to other people.’

‘Because of this, it’s strongly advisable to take a rapid lateral flow test before you enter any crowded spots. These tests are really easy to pick up on the NHS website, and just involve taking a swab of your tonsils and your nose.’

‘You should get either a positive or negative result within 30 minutes, so you won’t have long to wait.’

Make an informed decision about whether to attend or not

Besides checking for any Covid symptoms beforehand, it’s very important to consider your circumstances before you go into any situation where there will be crowds. 

‘If you haven’t received two vaccinations for the virus, or if you’re living with someone who’s clinically vulnerable, you should think very carefully about the risks of a crowded environment.’

‘Getting two Covid vaccinations will give you better and longer lasting protection against the virus than just one, and the vaccine is the best means of protecting both yourself and other people from it.’

‘Research reflects that the vaccine not only restricts the chances of you contracting or passing the virus on to someone else, but that it also decreases the risk of you becoming seriously ill or dying from Covid-19, and protects you against variants of the virus too.’

‘But you can still transmit and develop the virus even if you have been fully vaccinated, so it’s crucial that you follow other safety measures in crowded spaces as well.’

Face masks aren’t mandatory, but they are recommended

Face masks in crowded places aren’t currently a legal requirement, but you’re still expected to wear one in crowded and enclosed environments. Masks offer some protection for the wearer, but they’re primarily for the protection of others.

‘If they’re worn as they should be, face masks can restrict the spread of transmission, so if you’re in or near a crowd of people, it’s definitely recommended that you wear one.’

‘The risks of the virus spreading are considerably higher indoors than they are outdoors, as the ventilation isn’t as good if you’re inside somewhere. So if you’re looking to go to a gig at an indoor venue or if you’re heading to an indoor festival for example, it’s especially important to wear one.’

‘This doesn’t mean to say that it’s safe to refrain from wearing a mask outdoors. Whilst the risks are smaller, the virus can still be passed from one person to the next in enclosed spaces. To sum up then, best practice is to still wear a facemask either indoors or outdoors where there are crowds.’

‘It’s also worth keeping in mind that people may be travelling to and from the venue you’re attending, having already been at other crowded places, or they may be using public transport to get to and from venues, and this transport may also be crowded. This makes the end to end transmission of Covid-19 greater, and wearing a facemask will offer you protection in the face of these circumstances too.’ 

Avoid sharing water bottles or other drinks containers

You should also avoid sharing any water bottles, or other drinks you’re consuming, if you’re in a crowded spot. 

‘Evidence at the minute suggests that the virus is spread through infected droplets being inhaled, and these droplets coming into contact with the eyes, nose and mouth.’

So if you’re sharing water bottles or other drinking utensils with other people, those drinks containers could contain droplets of the virus that’s then passed on from you to someone else, or vice versa.’

Given these risks, it’s best to refrain from sharing any drinks. And if you really want to safeguard against Covid-19, take your own drinks container with you to an event, so that you can be safe in the knowledge that the only person who’s handled it is yourself.’

Use hand sanitiser (or soap and water) if you have access to it

Whether you take a small bottle of hand sanitiser along with you, or if the environment you’re in provides some (or soap and water as an alternative), you should use it regularly, to reduce your chances of infection as much as you can. If you’re at a specific venue, you may find hand sanitiser or soap at the entrance or exit, in the toilets, or at different parts of the site itself.

‘Keeping in mind that someone can spread Covid-19 through breathing, speaking, sneezing or coughing, it’s very easy for droplets of the virus to get on to your hands, or other surfaces which you then touch. Especially in a crowded environment.’

‘Using hand sanitiser or soap wherever you can will help to disinfect your hands, and offer you protection from developing (and spreading) the virus.’

‘Most venues should provide either hand sanitiser or access to soap and water in the toilets on site, but if you want to ensure that you’re protected from the virus, either contact the venue to check that they have these facilities in advance, or take some hand sanitiser with you.’