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Stop panicking about outdoor spaces

Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The Covid panic about busy outdoor spaces needs to stop, says Sarah Manavis in the New Statesman. On “Super Saturday” last July, images of packed Soho streets went viral, but weeks went by and there was no spike in cases. We now know that outdoor transmission between people who aren’t touching is rare, and that the sun’s ultraviolet light kills most Covid particles. Yet “panic and moral scolding” has accompanied this month’s reopening of pub gardens, with “predictable sneering” that irresponsible young people would send the country back into another lockdown.

It’s nonsense. Surveys have shown that young people are just as compliant with regulations as the old – maybe more so, given one poll in March found that more than 40% of over-80s had broken lockdown rules after getting their first jab. The real culprit is indoor activity, where transmission is likely even with “aggressive sanitation and plenty of space”. We’ve been “taught” to “demonise people drinking in the park, but to not think twice about friends sat around at a dinner party”. That’s the wrong way round, even if our “gut instinct” says otherwise.

Why it matters
If the danger of outdoor space is one myth about Covid, another is that it spreads via surfaces. This notion, says Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times, has led to a lot of “performative” deep cleaning by organisations wanting to look proactive. But the idea was disproved in a paper way back in March last year. And in one South Korean office block, when almost half the workers on the 11th floor got Covid, only three of the other 700 workers in the skyscraper did, even though they would have been pressing the same lift buttons. The focus on deep cleaning is just another “distraction” we can do without.