There has never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a crowded beach, MPs have heard.

While beaches in Cornwall were busy last summer, there was no repeat of scenes at Durdle Door in Dorset, Bournemouth, Brighton, Southend and various other spots, which made national headlines.

Thousands of people rubbed shoulders with strangers as beaches were filled with families and sun-seekers looking to spend the day by the sea.

At one point, a major incident was declared in Dorset after emergency services were stretched to the limit.

Visit Cornwall chief Malcolm Bell had said the main reason Cornwall avoided such a situation was because unlike those locations, people had so many beaches to choose from.

Speaking to a committee of MPs on Wednesday, Professor Mark Woolhouse, a scientific adviser to Boris Johnson’s government, said trips to the beach will be one of the safest things to do once lockdown is eased.

Professor Woolhouse, who is a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Over the summer we were treated to all this on the television news and pictures of crowded beaches, and there was an outcry about this.

“There were no outbreaks linked to crowded beaches, there’s never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach ever anywhere in the world to the best of my knowledge.”

He said that mass gatherings – such as a horse racing event – are an exception because they do not involve social distancing and there are “pinch points” like travel and refreshment facilities.

“I think we do have to understand where the risks are so that we can do as much as possible safely,” he added.

Bournemouth beach in June

Professor Woolhouse also argued that the success of the vaccination programme meant the government could consider “earlier unlocking” of curbs.

“If you are driven by the data and not by dates, right now you should be looking at earlier unlocking because the data are so good,” he said.

Professor Woolhouse added that he believed the government was slow to restart schools and allow outdoor activities after the first lockdown.

“I think we probably could have considered reopening schools much sooner in the first lockdown,” he said. “The other thing, quite clearly, is outdoor activities.

A social distancing sign on the beach in St Ives.
(Image: Greg Martin / Cornwall Live)

“Those two things, I think, could have been relaxed sooner in the first lockdown.”

When asked whether schools needed to shut during the current lockdown, Professor Woolhouse told the committee: “Children themselves are at very low risk from this infection.

“We’ve also got good evidence now that teachers and other school staff are not at any elevated risk from Covid-19 compared with other working professions.”

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