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Britain looks to the great outdoors to ease its coronavirus lockdown

Johnson unveils new lockdown rules for England
Johnson unveils new lockdown rules for Englan... 01:46

London — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his government's plan on Sunday to ease the country out of coronavirus lockdown, provided the infection rate keeps dropping. One of the first freedoms he restored to a cooped-up public was to permit "unlimited" use of parks and outdoor spaces in England — as long as people from different households stay at least 6 feet apart.

For seven weeks Brits had been permitted outdoors for exercise only once a day, and urged to keep it to one hour.

As Britain's schools and businesses try to figure out how and when they can reopen, clear, fact-based guidelines from the government are vital. An opinion poll taken just last week by the Open Knowledge Foundation found that 64% of British voters said they'd likely heed advice from scientists and researchers.

Another study, by Survation, found that 51% of Britain's voters reported having seen fake news and discredited claims about the coronavirus, mostly shared on social media.

Coronavirus misinformation on social media 07:23

Several weeks ago, a group of aerodynamic researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, led by Bert Blocken, released a study on Twitter, hoping to get funding, showing that exhaled droplets from runners and cyclists traveled farther than those of people walking.

The paper was uploaded and accompanied by a simulation showing that droplets from runners could linger in a runner's slipstream for as far as 10 yards. But the theory was established in a tunnel, using dummies. There was no accounting for fresh air, headwind, crosswind, or tailwind. In other words, real life conditions weren't factored in. It was not a scientific study and it had not been peer reviewed.  

But it still spread quickly around the world. Blocken was interviewed by the BBC, and the report had an impact, playing on people's legitimate fear of the deadly disease. It stoked a lively debate — and multiple anecdotal reports of runners and cyclists being harassed in European parks.

Joggers run to take their exercise in Battersea Park in London on March 28, 2020, as life continues in Britain during the novel coronavirus pandemic. TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty

Quoted in Runners World Magazine, Professor John Edmunds of the prestigious Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine explained the three potential routes for human coronavirus infection: "Contact with an infected surface, such as a door handle; via aerosols — tiny particles that can stay suspended in the air - and droplets, larger particles that rapidly fall to the ground.

"The first two of these routes would be reduced to virtually zero out of doors, as you are much less likely to touch an infected surface, and suspended particles will be massively diluted by the fresh air and the viral particles that they contain rapidly destroyed by desiccation and UV light. This leaves droplets.  As long as you keep a reasonable distance away from others, your risk will also be reduced to extremely low levels."

Scottish authorities are now exploring ways to use the outdoors to help schools reopen. There's a growing body of evidence of the positive impact of outdoor learning on children, in addition to the reduced likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus. The thinking is that kids outside will touch fewer of the same surfaces, such as toys and pencils, and they're more likely to play with more distance between them in an outdoor environment.

Students learn nature lessons in classrooms w... 04:38

Previous research has shown that outdoor exercise is a boon to the human immune system and both physical and mental health. As people look for ways to stay healthy and ward off the invisible threat of disease, the call of the great outdoors may be heard louder than ever, giving us more to take in than what we read on Twitter.

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