News, Culture & Society

The ONLY way to picnic: Scientists say groups must sit in a hexagon, pentagon or parallelogram

Groups should picnic in the shape of a parallelogram, a hexagon or pentagon if they want to meet together while still maintaining social distancing and good hygiene, experts have said.

From Monday, up to six people will be allowed to meet both in public spaces and in private gardens in England for the first time in two months.

There are concerns the UK’s stringent two-metre contact gap will be hard to abide by when hordes of people descend on beaches and parks after being confined to their homes for all but essential travel since March 24. 

Britons meeting for picnics from next week should form a hexagon (left), pentagon (top right) or a series of triangles known as a parallelogram (right)

There are concerns the UK's stringent two metre contact gap will be hard to abide by when hordes of people descend on beaches and parks. Pictured: Young people by the riverside in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, yesterday

There are concerns the UK’s stringent two metre contact gap will be hard to abide by when hordes of people descend on beaches and parks. Pictured: Young people by the riverside in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, yesterday

But experts from Oxford University said putting six people in a hexagon or pentagon could be a safe and space-efficient way to adhere to the rules and maintain good hygiene.

Mathematician and BBC TV personality Bobby Seagull has suggested sitting in a series of triangles to form a parallelogram.

Separate experts have advised against barbecues because sharing food and cooking utensils could exacerbate the spread of the virus – despite the Government telling Britons they are allowed. 

Professor Sally Bloomfield, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said picnics were much safer as long as people brought their own food and cutlery. 

Jason Lotay, professor of pure mathematics at Oxford University, said putting six people in a hexagon, each with a two-metre distance between them, was probably the best option. It would also require just 10.4 square metres of space.

The maximum distance between two people would be four metres at the shape’s widest point, while the average distance from person to person would be around 2.29m, according to the mathematician.

If Britons wanted to take up even less room, then one person could go in the middle to form a pentagon. This would require a smaller area of just 9.5 square metres.

But, despite taking up less space overall, Professor Lotay warned groups would actually be further apart from their friends, with an average 2.72m between them.

The four Home Nations now have significantly different sets of lockdown rules in place. For example, in England from Monday six people can meet up outdoors but in Scotland from today it is eight people

The four Home Nations now have significantly different sets of lockdown rules in place. For example, in England from Monday six people can meet up outdoors but in Scotland from today it is eight people 

How is the lockdown being eased in England from Monday? 

What’s changing?

From Monday, people can meet outside in groups of up to six as long as those from different households continue to socially distance.  

– Can I visit family and friends?

Yes . This means that family groups of no more than six can meet in parks and private gardens for chats and even barbecues.

– How far am I allowed to travel?

There are no mileage limits set for how far you are allowed to drive to visit family and friends in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the general advice is to remain in your local area as much as possible.

However, people in Wales will still not be allowed to travel more than five miles from their home for any reason except work or to purchase essentials.

Great, can we hug?

Sadly no. You still cannot risk infection by being too close. The same goes for handshakes or kissing.

If young children from different households are part of the group, they must not share paddling pools, climbing frames, slides or anything that would encourage them to be closer than two metres to each other. 

Can I stay overnight?

Staying overnight at someone else’s home will still not be allowed anywhere in the UK, while even going indoors for any other reason than to access a garden or use the bathroom is prohibited.

However Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised that if the distance travelled to meet someone means that you have to use their bathroom, then ‘perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it’.   

Can we barbecue?

Yes, but you must wash your hands, be careful about passing food or plates and keep 6ft apart.

How about entering their house?

Only if there is no other way of getting to the back of the property. 

What about using the toilet?

You can, but you must thoroughly clean any surfaces you touch.

To be extra safe, you could even use a paper towel to open and close bathroom doors and perhaps consider using a kitchen roll to dry hands rather than a towel.

So what if it rains?

You will have to stand under an umbrella or leave. You cannot shelter in someone else’s home.

Can we camp in the garden?

No, Boris Johnson said he did not want you to stay overnight.

Do I only have to see the same group?

No, you can meet different people at different times, but try not to see too many in quick succession.

Can those shielding take part?

No, they must continue to shield if they’re in the clinically extremely vulnerable group and have had a letter from their GP.

What about the over-70s?

If they are not in the shielding group.

We are a family of six – can we meet anyone else?

No. The guidelines say you can meet only up to six people at any one time.

Can we visit a relative in a care home garden?

It would depend on circumstances and the care home’s management.

– What else will I be allowed to do under the new measures?

In England, Monday’s lockdown easing will signal the reopening of schools to allow students in nurseries, early-years settings, and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to class.

Some shops are also set to reopen, with outdoor retail and car showrooms able to resume operations. 

– When might restrictions be eased further?

Boris Johnson has flagged that more restrictions will be eased on June 15, beginning with the reopening of other non-essential retail shops such as fashion or homeware retail.

Other businesses, such as pubs, hairdressers and cinemas will have to wait until July before they can reopen, the Government has previously said.

Professor Lotay told The Telegraph: ‘Of course, things are much better for the person in the middle, who is 2m from everyone, but worse for everyone else, who now have an average of 2.86m to anyone else.

‘I would probably say that efficiency is given by the total area required and minimising the maximum distance between any two people, in which case the pentagram model is better.

‘However, as I say, it means that one person gets preferential treatment, and it is worse for everyone else.’

The UK Government has insisted the public must keep a two-metre contact gap from people from other households, despite the science about its effectiveness being murky.

It is double the one metre gap recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is the distance permitted in Hong Kong, Singapore, France and China.

Australia, Germany and the Netherlands recommend 1.5 metres.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advice is that there is a ‘considerable reduction’ in risk at a two-metre distance, compared to a smaller gap. But it is not based on any scientific research.

Mathematician Bobby Seagull, who hosts the BBC Two series, Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Adventures, said the most efficient way to keep people the correct distance apart is to form a series of triangles. When a group of six people do this it forms a ‘parallelogram’.

Mr Seagull said his solution was the best way to picnic without disrupting others who are also trying to social distance in busy parks moving forward.  

Ahead of the next wave of lockdown loosening on Monday, thousands of sun-seekers are expected to jump the gun and arrange gatherings at parks and beaches as temperatures soar to highs of 82F. 

Supermarkets reported last night that shoppers were already spending record sums on sausages, beer, wine and ice cream in anticipation of weekend barbecues and picnics.

The steady lifting of draconian restrictions kicks in from next week, but last night restless rule-breakers spurred on by the announcement were pictured together in outdoor spots across the country.

Police chiefs complained their officers face an impossible situation of trying to force the public to comply with existing rules while knowing many of these curbs are set to be dropped on Monday.

Constables have ordered Britons to obey the lockdown in its current form and not pre-empt Monday’s changes, warning that flouters face fines.

Northumbria’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said: ‘The PM must have known he was going to create a situation that is difficult to police. The messaging looks like it was rushed forward to help ministers in a difficult position.’

Anthony Stansfeld, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, said: ‘People should obey the rules – things are only just beginning to open up, so please don’t pre-empt them.

‘All the relaxation of lockdown is being carefully timed by the Government’s chief scientists for good reason.

‘It’s far better if people wait and do things at the proper time, so please don’t jump the gun. A bit more freedom is coming on Monday, so I urge everyone to be patient.’

Merseyside Police warned that people would be fined if they turned up to parks and beaches in large groups across the city this weekend.

Superintendent Jonathan Davies said: ‘I know people will be tempted to get outside. This is a reminder that the rules on spending time with only one other person from another household remains in place this weekend.’

Three of the nation’s top scientists – all on the government’s Sage panel of experts steering the crisis response – have also voiced concerns that lockdown is being lifted ‘too early’.

Prof Peter Horby this morning lined up behind Sir Jeremy Farrar and Prof John Edmunds to break ranks and caution measures were being relaxed when the infection rate was still not low enough.

The ‘R’ reproduction rate sits just below one between 0.7 and 0.9, and the government announced there were 324 new Covid-19 deaths yesterday, following a pattern of decline.

Professor Horby, chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) and a Sage member, said Britain could not afford to lose control of the virus.

He told BBC Radio 4 this morning: ‘We really can’t go back to a situation where we’ve got the numbers of cases and deaths we’ve had in the past.’

Speaking about the new test and trace infrastructure, he added: ‘As we know, it’s not yet fully operational so that is where the risk lies.’

It followed representations from Sir Jeremy and Professor Edmunds yesterday.

Four nations, four lockdowns: How different rules now apply in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (so who’s following what science?)

ByJack Maidment, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline

Long-awaited changes are being made to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown with the four Home Nations now adopting different approaches to the loosening of draconian rules.

Boris Johnson set out his plans which mostly only relate to England at a Downing Street press conference last night with those changes coming into force on Monday.

But more limited changes in Scotland came into force today while Wales and Northern Ireland are also doing their own thing.

Below is a breakdown of how different rules apply in different parts of the country.

ENGLAND

Perhaps the most eye-grabbing change announced by Mr Johnson last night was that as of Monday groups of up to six people will be allowed to meet up outdoors.

Social distancing rules to stay at least two metres apart remain in place but the six people can be from different households.

This is a much more flexible approach than has been taken in Scotland and Wales.

These group gatherings can take place either outdoors in a public park or within a private garden but people have been told to be careful if guests need to travel through a house to get to a garden. Barbecues are allowed.

England’s new rules mean there is no limit on how far people can travel from their home.

Meanwhile, people can also exercise as much as they want – a change which was announced by Mr Johnson in his first wave of loosening.

When it comes to shops, all non-essential premises will be allowed to start reopening from June 15. That means most High Street stores like clothes shops and shoe shops.

Other businesses, such as pubs, hairdressers and cinemas will have to wait until July before they can reopen, the Government has previously said.

Primary schools and nurseries will begin their phased reopening from June 1 while some year 10 and 12 students will be able to return to secondary schools from June 15.

SCOTLAND

Nicola Sturgeon’s lockdown changes came into force as of today, in time for what is expected to be a sunny weekend with highs of up to 80F.

The First Minister’s plans allow groups of up to eight people to meet up outside.

However, they must all be from just two households. Similar to in England, these gatherings can either take place in private gardens or in outdoor spaces like parks.

One difference is that people are not supposed to go into someone else’s house – even if it that is the only way to get to the garden.

Social distancing rules remain at the two metre figure while there is no legal limit on travel away from home.

However, the Scottish government has encouraged people to ‘stay local’ which means not travelling more than approximately five miles.

Ms Sturgeon has advised that if the distance travelled to meet someone means that you have to use their bathroom, then ‘perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it’.

People in Scotland are also allowed to exercise as much as they want outside.

Scotland’s easing will enable people to visit garden centres and play some sports where social distancing can easily be maintained, such as golf and tennis.

There is less clarity north of the border on when non-essential shops could reopen with the Scottish government yet to set a date for the return of the High Street.

Scotland’s education plan is also much more cautious than England’s with schools not expected to start reopening until August 11.

In Scotland, there is no set timeline for when more measures might be lifted.

WALES

First Minister Mark Drakeford set out his plans for lockdown loosening this morning.

Outdoor gatherings will be permitted from Monday but only with people from two different households.

However, the number of people who can meet up outdoors in a socially distanced way is unlimited.

The Welsh plan also allows people to use gardens for their gatherings although like in Scotland people are not allowed to go into other people’s homes.

In Wales there is a broad five mile limit on travel away from home although the Welsh government has stressed travel should remain ‘local’ and not generally further than five miles, seemingly giving some room for interpretation.

People in Wales are also allowed to exercise as much as they want outside but no date has yet been set for the return of non-essential shops.

However, Mr Drakeford said today that non-essential retail businesses that can comply with social distancing rules should start to prepare to reopen over the next three weeks.

Mr Drakeford said a decision on whether they will reopen will be taken at the next review of lockdown measures on June 18 and will depend on scientific and medical evidence.

No date has yet been set for the reopening of schools.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Northern Ireland was the first of the four Home Nations to move on loosening rules relating to socialising.

Groups of between four and six people are allowed to meet outdoors.

They can all be from different households and social distancing at two metres must be stuck to.

Gardens are allowed to be used for those gatherings but access to another person’s house is not permitted.

People can travel as far as they want from their home – just like in England – with no restrictions on the amount of outdoor exercise allowed.

Some non-essential shops are expected to begin reopening from June 15.

Pending the country’s rate of transmission remaining below one, a host of further restrictions are set to be eased in Northern Ireland on June 8.

That could include the reopening of outdoor sports facilities, car showrooms and some non-essential retail stores.

Outdoor weddings with a maximum of 10 people are also set to be allowed and hotels will be able to start taking forward bookings at their own risk.

However, there is a longer wait for schools with pupils not expected to return to the classroom until the new academic year begins in September.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk