Labour weekend heralds the start of summer for many with Kiwis around the country flocking to the beach to soak up the sun or venture in for their first swim of the season.
But in a year which has been anything but normal, what adjustments will we have to make when hitting the beach?
While we can enjoy the relative freedom of Covid-19 alert level 1, your beach bag should contain a few extra items this summer.
Your phone: It might be tempting to turn your phone off and leave it in a drawer while you’re on holiday but this year is not the time for a technology detox. A Ministry of Health spokesperson said beach-goers should take their phone with them and log their activities on the NZ Covid Tracer app. You’ll have to add a manual entry for places like the beach which do not have QR code posters.
A mask: If you’re taking public transport to get there, you are encouraged to wear a mask although it’s not mandatory at alert level 1.
As for masks at the beach, that’s up to you. The Ministry of Health says you should consider wearing one when you are in a crowded place and cannot maintain physical distancing. Infectious diseases expert Professor Michael Baker says there’s no need because the evidence was “pretty strong” that almost all transmission happens indoors. “Covid hates ventilation and sunlight,” he said.
Hand sanitiser: It won’t help you avoid the crunch of sand in your fish and chips or your sandwich but a squirt of hand sanitiser before you tuck in will help stop the spread of the virus, the Ministry spokesperson said.
Antihistamines: If you’re prone to hay fever and want to avoid filthy looks from fellow beachgoers, make sure you dose up on antihistamines before you leave home, the ministry said. And don’t forget to cough or sneeze into your elbow.
As for beach etiquette, there were no hard and fast rules under level 1 rather it came down to personal responsibility, Surf Life Saving New Zealand national club and volunteer development manager Chris Emmett said.
Emmett said beaches had already been busier than usual this year as Kiwis who would usually travel overseas instead took the chance to enjoy their own backyard – and he expected that would continue.
With physical distancing still encouraged and large numbers expected to hit the beach, Emmett said Surf Life Saving NZ staff and volunteers were looking to do things a little differently.
Weekend patrols start on Saturday in much of Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Coromandel Peninsula and Auckland, and beachgoers are encouraged to swim between the flags as usual.
But, Emmett said staff may widen the flagged area or set up a second set of flags, where conditions and volunteer numbers allowed them to do so safely, to enable physical distancing if the beach became crowded.
Roaming and observational patrols could also be stepped-up this summer in an effort to keep those swimming in other parts of the beach safer.
“That’s just to deal with the numbers of people at the beach. People will see a flagged area and if they see a lot of people they will say, ‘I’ll wait my turn’ or I’ll just swim over here’,” he said.
Overseas lifesaving counterparts had also noticed more people travelling to remote beaches since the start of the outbreak, which would be a challenge for the organisation, Emmett said.
He said that made it more important than ever for people to adhere to the usual safety rules – use the patrolled area; never swim, fish or surf alone; and if in doubt, stay out
Usual club activities like beach education and junior surf lessons would also carry on as usual under level 1.
Emmett said it was higher alert levels which would really make things tricky. The organisation was in the process of checking to see if there could be exemptions for gathering limits at other alert levels as it would not be feasible for lifeguards to try to count people in and out of the water in the flagged areas.
“There’s a lot of personal responsibility that comes with Covid-19,” he said.
If the beach is not your scene and instead you prefer to cool down in the pool, the usual hygiene rules apply, the ministry said. If you have had diarrhoea in the last two weeks, don’t go in the water. Take children to the toilet before swimming and make sure they wash their hands. Where possible shower yourself and your children before putting togs on.
As is the new norm, stay home if you’re sick and call Healthline or your GP who can tell you if you need a Covid-19 test and where to go.
But after making it through months of lockdown, perhaps the most important advice comes from Michael Baker: “In general people should get on and enjoy summer and get on with enjoying the results of the elimination strategy that has been applied. That’s the benefit of going through lockdown and those restrictions,” he said.
“I don’t think there should be any particular limitation on enjoying the summer at level 1.”
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