‘Extraordinarily low’ risk of catching coronavirus as golf and other sports return

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The risk of contracting Covid-19 from outdoor exercise is “extraordinarily low” and there were no known cluster outbreaks when the sport returned, according to medical experts.

As organized sport resumes on Monday following the third national lockdown, each governing body has each developed their own Covid-safe guidance to reduce risk and ensure their activities do not have to be halted again.

A number of studies have analyzed the risk factors associated with sport, and the repeated message is that the greatest potential for problems is not with the activities themselves, but when protocols related to spectating, travelling, changing clothes and socializing are not followed will.

“From the data we have looked at and the work that has been done on back-to-play protocols, the risk of playing outdoor sports is exceptionally low,” said Professor Mike Weed of Canterbury Christ Church University.

“From what we know last summer, it appears protocols have been mitigating against cluster breakouts. There were no examples of significant cluster breakouts.

“The risk comes from things around him and potentially bringing groups of adults together when it comes to children’s sports. Even then, to be honest, these risks can be mitigated and don’t matter much in the overall scheme of things. Grassroots sport can be demonized a little – images of large crowds or groups of people can upset people. But objectively speaking, the risks are lower than what many people do in their everyday lives.”

There are three main ways to capture Covid-19 – from droplets, surfaces or aerosols. But, according to Prof Weed, “there is a growing recognition” that aerosol is likely the primary route of transmission and “plays virtually no role outside of it”. Indeed, in his broader study of the spread of Covid-19, Prof Weed said there were “very few – almost negligible – examples of outdoor transmission in everyday life”.

His work helped inform parkruns protocols for his return for children in April and then for adults in June. The most important advice was to reduce the high number of participants at the starting line and also the common waiting time. “Once the event starts, people spread out — having them all face the same direction also reduces risk,” he said.

Professor James Calder, who chairs the Government’s Committee on the Return of Elite Sport, also said there had been no known cases of on-field transmission. Analysis in rugby union and rugby league has also found that the virus is not spread during contact, which can occur during play, and that off-field mixing is the main risk.

In Scotland, there was such confidence in the low risk of outdoor transmission that golf and tennis continued through the third lockdown.

“We need restrictions where we know transmission is more common and fewer restrictions where it is safer,” said Professor Devi Sridhar, who has advised the Scottish Government. “We know that outdoor transmission is minimal — particularly with distancing for outdoor sports.”

New government initiative for children’s activities

The government has launched a nationwide push to get children active for at least an hour every day as part of the long-awaited return of grassroots outdoor sports.

As golfers and tennis players are already flooding their clubs with bookings for the grand reopening today, some of the country’s biggest sports stars have joined the government in urging people to maximize the many health benefits of sport and physical activity.

The Telegraph’s Keep Kids Active campaign has successfully pushed for priority given to children’s sport as lockdown restrictions were eased, and the Government has now also committed more than £10million to opening school sport facilities outside of school hours.

Children’s activity levels have been severely impacted by the three national lockdowns, with more than half of all children falling short of the recommended daily average of at least 60 minutes of activity.

“The long wait is over – I urge everyone to put on their trainers, get outside and enjoy all the positive benefits that sport can bring,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said. “We want kids to be active 60 minutes a day and adults 2½ hours a week to help us get fitter, healthier and happier post this pandemic. Sport and physical activity will be at the heart of our national recovery and is a really important step forward today.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a “great British summer of sport” and paid tribute to the sacrifices made by children over the past year.

England Men’s World Cup cricket captain Eoin Morgan, Britain’s No.1 tennis player Johanna Konta, England rugby union supporter Kyle Sinckler and England netball player Serena Guthrie joined the call for action. Sports facilities such as football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools, golf courses and sailing clubs can all reopen today. Organized outdoor team sports can also resume before the Easter holidays.

The Lawn Tennis Association has already reported increasing interest. “We started a new club because of that surge,” said Dan Travis, tennis coach at Preston Park in Brighton. Leeds City Courts experienced an exceptional boom last year with 48,000 bookings compared to just 8,000 in 2019. The LTA is also reporting record-breaking registrations for local tennis leagues in 2021, which have already confirmed more participants than the full year last year.

Tim Barnes, co-owner and operator of two golf courses in Cheshire, also highlighted the need for golf. “I just got a text message from a member asking if he could fire a shot if he shines his car headlights in the first direction at 12.01pm,” he said. “We’re fully booked for most of the week.”

However, other sports face major challenges. With indoor pools closed for so long last year and unable to reopen until next month, Swim England has warned that without tailored government support, up to 200 facilities could be lost permanently. Of particular concern is the impact of an entire generation of children at risk of missing their legal swimming lessons.

“There are not enough swimming pools in the country and the impact of Covid has been monumental,” said Steve Parry, a medalist at the Athens 2004 Olympics. “We weren’t doing particularly well before Covid, with one in four children dropping out of school and unable to swim, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Every young person has the right to learn to swim and to know how to move about safely in the water.” ‘Extraordinarily low’ risk of catching coronavirus as golf and other sports return

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