Speaking to a committee of MPs on Wednesday, the expert suggested beach trips should not be considered one of the risky mass gatherings that would be unsafe to restart this summer.
“There were no outbreaks linked to crowded beaches,” said Prof Woolhouse. “There’s never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach ever anywhere in the world to the best of my knowledge.”
He told the science and technology committee: “So I think we do have to understand where the risks are and aren’t so that [the prime minister] can do as much as possible safely.”
He added: “Again, there was evidence going back to March and April that the virus is not transmitted well outdoors. There’s been very, very little evidence that any transmission outdoors is happening in the UK.”
Several police forces and local authorities pleaded with people to keep clear of beaches during the summer and autumn of 2020, after it became difficult to maintain social distancing on the crowded public spaces.
However, Prof Woolhouse told MPs beaches were safe. He said that some other mass gatherings – such as a horse racing event – were riskier because they do not involve social distancing and are full of “pinch points” like travel and refreshment facilities.
The epidemiologist also argued that the success of the vaccination programme meant the government could consider “earlier unlocking” of curbs.
“If you are driven by the data and not by dates, right now you should be looking at earlier unlocking because the data are so good,” he said.
The University of Edinburgh’s professor of infectious disease epidemiology also argued the government was slow to restart schools and allow outdoor activities after the first lockdown.
“I think we probably could have considered reopening schools much sooner in the first lockdown,” he said. “The other thing, quite clearly, is outdoor activities.
“Those two things, I think, could have been relaxed sooner in the first lockdown.”
When asked whether schools needed to shut during the current lockdown, he told the committee: “Children themselves are at very low risk from this infection.
“We’ve also got good evidence now that teachers and other school staff are not at any elevated risk from Covid-19 compared with other working professions.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies