Chris Whitty warns queuing outdoors could pass on COVID – but joggers running past is low-risk

Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty speaks during a remote press conference to update the nation on the covid-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London  on December 14, 2020. - London is to move into the highest level of anti-virus restrictions, the health minister announced Monday. The British capital from Wednesday will go into "tier three" restrictions, which force the closure of theatres and ban people from eating out at restaurants or drinking in pubs, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Prof Chris Whitty has described outdoor scenarios that could increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. (Tolga Akmen/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
  • Chris Whitty says queuing is an outdoor scenario with greater chance of COVID spreading

  • Risk of transmission much lower outdoors than indoors... but new variant of virus ‘undoubtedly’ increases that risk compared with before

  • However, Whitty sure jogger running past someone in street is safe

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Chris Whitty has warned that queuing outdoors could increase the risk of spreading coronavirus.

The risk of transmission of COVID-19 is well known as being far lower outdoors than indoors.

However, Prof Whitty, making a rare broadcast round of TV and radio stations on Monday, said the new variant of the virus – which has caused record infections, hospitalisations and deaths in recent weeks – “undoubtedly” makes every outdoor situation “slightly more dangerous”.

Describing outdoor scenarios which are of greater risk, England’s chief medical officer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s the much longer contacts in close proximity that can still happen outdoors.

Watch: Next few weeks will be the worst for the NHS, says Chris Whitty

“If people, for example, are crowded together in a queue… if they’re really huddled together around a market stall or something, that is a risk with this virus.”

Prof Whitty, one of Boris Johnson’s top COVID advisers, said there “might be some logic” to people wearing masks in such situations, but he said a “much better” alternative would be to avoid all unnecessary trips outdoors.

However, Prof Whitty dismissed a suggestion that fleeting contact in the street, such as a jogger running past, could be a risk.

“Very short contact like that, outdoors, is extremely low-risk.”

Responding to Prof Whitty’s comments, infectious diseases professor Keith Neal, from the University of Nottingham, said the risk of infection from someone walking or running past “is incredibly low and approaches zero”.

Regarding prolonged queuing, Prof Neal agreed wearing masks “is prudent” – but that increased social distancing would be more effective, and that supermarkets should place two-metre distance markers on the ground.

Elsewhere in Prof Whitty’s broadcast round, meanwhile, he promised life will return to normal… but not for a long time.

All four UK nations are under national lockdowns due to the winter crisis caused by the new variant.

Watch: What is long COVID?