Unless you’ve been making a deliberate effort to avoid the news recently, you’ll know that after three months of lockdown, restrictions in the UK are being lifted.
- From early June non-essential retail was permitted to reopen.
- From the 4th July, pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open their doors to customers, provided they have measures in place to allow patrons to social distance.
- Non-essential travel and quarantine restrictions to several European countries will be lifted from 6th July.
- And from the 1st August, people shielding will no longer have to.
Lockdown rules have been lifted because the risk of getting coronavirus is thought to be much lower now than it was in March. Obviously easing restrictions comes with risks, and both health and government officials have stressed the need for us all to exercise continued caution, by:
- maintaining a two metre distance from other people not in our household wherever possible
- maintaining a one metre or more distance where this isn’t possible, but to wear face coverings in these cases (such as on public transport)
- frequently washing our hands for 20 seconds at a time.
Some independent health officials have expressed reservations about the rate at which restrictions are being lifted. If you’ve tuned into the news over the past week or been on social media, it’s likely you’ll have seen or heard debates taking place on whether easing lockdown measures goes too far, too quickly; and whether or not this risks a second surge in infections. And reports of large numbers of people engaging in street parties and gathering on beaches have raised concerns about our ability to stick to the rules.
So a modicum of anxiety is understandable. As we’ve said before, we’re in uncharted territory. COVID-19 is a new illness we’re learning about all the time, and it’s an issue the likes of which authorities across the globe haven’t faced before.
It’s expected that a lot of people may feel hesitant about resuming the activities they normally do, visiting the places they normally visit, and socialising with friends and family. Businesses are required to be ‘COVID-safe’ when reopening to customers and the guidelines set by the government are there to help us stay safe.
But as we come out of lockdown, there are extra measures you can take to resume normality that little bit more safely, and limit your risk of becoming infected with coronavirus.
In this post, we’ll examine with Dr Daniel Atkinson how to further reduce your risk of infection when:
Pubs and restaurants are due to reopen on the 4th July, with measures in place to help customers and staff stay safe. These will include:
- implementing a table only service, instead of ordering at a bar or counter
- staffing their service so that one server is assigned per table
- encouraging staff to communicate through radio or electronic devices, to reduce trips between front and back of house
- providing hand sanitiser or hand washing facilities for patrons to use upon arrival
- communicating to customers the need to social distance and follow good hygiene practices.
In addition to these, we asked Dr Atkinson what else people visiting pubs and restaurants can do to make their experience a safer one.
Pay with plastic. ‘Probably the easiest thing you can do to make your visit safer. Paying cash and handling change isn’t the most COVID safe option at the moment, for you or your server. Coins and notes tend to pass through a lot of hands as they circulate, and the more hands they pass through the higher the likelihood is that they come into contact with the virus. So by paying with a debit or credit, you’re doing everyone a favour.’
Choose an open space or terrace. ‘It isn’t always possible because not everywhere has them, but you can lower your risk of infection by sitting next to an open shop front, or opting for terrace or outside seating. We know that the virus is more fragile outdoors than it is inside, and the risk of transmission outdoors is comparatively very low. So sit outside or by a large open window if you can. But be prepared for these seats to be in high demand.’
Don’t drink too much. ‘After several weeks of being cooped up at home, it’s understandable that many of us will want to go out and let loose, and have a few drinks. There are already plenty of reasons why you should keep your alcohol intake within sensible limits, and the risk of coronavirus presents even more reasons. For example, if you drink a lot of alcohol in one sitting, you’re more likely to need to visit the bathroom several times. You can practice good hygiene in the bathroom, but the more visits you make, the greater the window is for picking up the infection. The more alcohol you drink, the lower your inhibitions will be, and the more likely you are to let your guard down and forget about COVID safe precautions (like not wearing a mask on the train or bus on the way home, or breaking the two metre rule).’
Opt for the menu over the buffet. ‘I personally can’t see many restaurants offering a buffet or salad bar service without strict measures in place to ensure social distancing rules are followed. It may even be that most restaurants forego offering this type of service initially. Still, if it comes down to a choice between a buffet and ordering off the menu, right now you’re in lower risk territory with the latter, because you’re avoiding a queue and not touching shared food-serving implements.’
When non-essential retail reopened in June, the industry put in place measures to lower the risk of virus transmission, which included:
- putting two metre markers down to help customers keep a safe distance
- limiting the number of customers allowed into a shop at any one time
- and discouraging people from handling products they weren’t going to buy.
So what else can shoppers do to make their trip safer?
Avoid cash. ‘Once again, plastic is the safest way right now.’ says Dr Atkinson. ‘Use contactless where possible, and try to avoid paying with notes or coins if you can.’
Go to the bathroom at home first. ‘Remember that bathroom facilities may be reduced or limited. So if you’re going to a shopping centre, the queue for the bathrooms that are open are going to be long. Practising good hygiene when visiting a communal bathroom is of utmost importance right now, so if you do use the facilities, make sure you wash and dry your hands thoroughly when leaving. But the best advice I can offer is to go at home before making the trip, so you aren’t as likely to need to go while you’re out.’
Don’t overdo it on fluids beforehand. ‘It’s important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to stay hydrated. But at the moment, you could do yourself a favour and save yourself time queuing for the bathroom, by not overdoing it on fluid intake before you make the trip to the shops. Again, the less you need to go to the communal bathroom, the lower the risk that you’ll need to touch commonly used surfaces.’
Allow yourself time. ‘It’s likely at the moment that everything is going to take longer than normal. Businesses are taking extra precautions to make things safe, and limit the number of people in any space at once. So a shopping trip isn’t something you can rush or squeeze into an already busy schedule right now. The more pressure you put on yourself to do things in a shorter space of time, the less likely you are to be cautious with social distancing. So if you are visiting the shops, give yourself a wider window than usual.’
The government advice at the moment is still to only meet up with others from outside your household outdoors, but from the 4th July this is changing. People from two households will be able to meet indoors, but must continue to observe social distancing.
Statistically, the risk of picking up coronavirus is obviously much lower visiting friends at their home than it is going to a public place. Taking extra measures however can help to further reduce the chances of transmission.
Call ahead on the day before you go. ‘If you’ve arranged to meet up with friends at their home on a specific day or evening,’ Daniel tells us, ‘I would recommend calling up a couple of hours beforehand to make sure the visit is still okay. If anyone from either household has developed symptoms, particularly a fever or a cough, it’s safest to cancel and rearrange for another time. In any case, we and people from the same household should still be observing rules around self-isolation if we develop symptoms. But because coronavirus symptoms can be mild at first, it’s easy for someone who doesn’t know they have the virus to pass it on.’
Spend time outdoors if you can. ‘It’s much, much harder for the virus to be transmitted in an outdoor environment than it is in an indoor environment. So even though it’s permitted to spend time together indoors as long as we observe social distancing, spending time outside or in the garden can help to further reduce risk.’
Avoid platters and finger food. ‘It’s thought that the risk of transmission through food isn’t very high. But sharing implements and huddling around a table to pick at a platter does make social distancing harder, and when we eat finger food we may tend to touch surfaces then touch our faces more (which is a route of transmission). So if you’re going to eat together, it’s better to serve food to guests in individual portions.’
Recent reports of large gatherings at beaches have raised concerns among health commentators. The government has stated its reluctance to close beaches, but also reiterated that this remains an option if people violate the rules.
So other than maintaining a safe distance from others, what can people do to make a trip to the beach safer?
Look for beaches in lesser known areas. ‘As we’ve seen, the main resorts tend to get crowded because they’re the easiest to access by car and everyone knows about them. People might also think that, because a beach area is so large, there’s going to be more space for them and it will be easier to social distance. So a lesser known beach a few miles further along the coast from the main pier or promenade is probably going to be less busy (and easier for you to observe social distancing guidelines).’
Don’t go on peak days. ‘The beach is going to be busier at weekends, and it’s going to be much busier on warmer days. It’s not going to be the best experience on days with heavy rain. However going to the beach when the weather is mild and temperate (as opposed to overtly warm and sunny), is still going to be a pleasant (and likely less busy) activity. For now, it’s probably better to use a visit to the beach to take in the view and the sea air rather than as a sun-bathing opportunity.’
Go early and think ahead. ‘The weather tends to get warmer towards lunchtime, so you might find it quieter and easier to social distance if you head to the beach earlier in the morning. When you’re at the beach, it’s better to think ahead by a couple of hours and anticipate it getting busier. So if you arrive and it’s already fairly busy, the chances are it’s going to get busier in the next couple of hours and harder to social distance.’
Apply sun protection. ‘It’s thought that the risk of sunburn on sunnier days is probably higher at the moment than it is normally. Because there’s been less traffic on the road due to lockdown and not as much pollution around, UV rays are stronger. As ever, apply sunscreen if you’re going out into sunny weather, and reapply every couple of hours.’
Gyms for the moment remain closed, but the use of basketball and tennis courts is permitted. So home and outdoor exercise are the activities of choice at the moment for those looking to stay in shape.
The risk of transmission outside is much lower, but there are steps we can take when exercising to lower this risk even further.
No tackle rule for football. ‘You’ll still only be able to meet up outdoors in groups of up to six after the 4th July, and social distance. If you’re participating in a team sport with that group of six, such as football, you’ll probably need to agree on some modified rules beforehand to make sure you can maintain a two metre distance. So for example, to prevent the need for tackles and contact, but keep things interesting and competitive, you might agree to play no more than two or three touches before passing to someone else. And of course, it’s best to limit handling of the ball as little as possible and, if you’re a goalie, wear your own gloves (the professionals are cleaning footballs regularly prior to taking throw-ins).’
Pick a quieter time. ‘It’s going to be easier to keep your distance from others when exercising during off-peak hours. For most people, this tends to be 7-9am and 5-7pm. Going for a run at lunchtime or slightly later in the evening will mean that you don’t have to stop and start to let people past or venture off the pavement into the road.'
Try not to share equipment or water. ‘If you’re exercising with someone else from another household, it’s better to limit contact by not sharing exercise equipment (such as weights or resistance bands) or bottles of water. For now, try to stick to using your own.’
For the latest guidance on coronavirus, visit gov.uk.