Does the risk of spreading coronavirus make jogging and exercise too dangerous?

Experts say people should run alone or in pairs a sufficient distance apart.

Experts say people should run alone or in pairs a sufficient distance apart. Photo: Chris Gillette

In the new world order of physical distancing, self-isolation and a creeping paranoia about other people’s germs, should you still puff and pant along a running attack, passing others who may have the coronavirus?

University of Queensland infectious disease expert Charles Gilks said it was technically possible to catch COVID-19 from a passing jogger, but that would be extremely unlucky.

“I can’t say there are no risks, but I think they’re very, very, very small,” Professor Gilks said.

He said while joggers coughing and sneezing could pass on an infection, keeping a good distance away helped ensure that did not happen.

Mater Hospital’s infectious diseases director Paul Griffin said it would be possible to inhale virus particles from someone passing by.

“But hopefully not enough to get infected,” Associate Professor Griffin said.

Two men ride bikes along a cement path.

Medical experts advise people to keep their distance if exercising in pairs. Photo: ABC News

“With the droplet spread, we know that you need a fairly significant interaction to be susceptible to getting this and the public health definition is 15 minutes of face-to-face or two hours in the same room.

“Clearly, if you walk past someone it’s a lot less than that.”

The ABC’s medical expert Norman Swan urged a cautious approach to exercising in public.

“I think you have to assume that as you are breathing up and breathing fast, if you’ve got [coronavirus] you’re more likely to be aerosolising it,” Dr Swan said.

That is, spraying out infected particles.

“With that bigger tidal volume, that bigger breathing … if they had COVID-19, if they had the SARS COVID-2 virus then they could actually be spraying it out a bit more than normal,” he said.

People walking and jogging along a path in a park

Joggers coughing and sneezing could pass on an infection. Photo: ABC News

Become a distance runner. In other words, always keep your distance.

Run alone or in pairs a sufficient distance apart.

This was the consistent advice from all professionals who spoke to ABC News.

Dr Swan said he always avoided other joggers.

“When I’m out running, I steer clear of other people and I certainly steer clear of runners coming towards me,” he said.

What about surfing?

People sit in pairs at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast keeping distance between them.

Experts say COVID-19 is unlikely to survive long in salty water. Photo: ABC News: Cathy Border

Associate Professor Griffin said he thought the surf might be a safe place because COVID-19 was unlikely to survive long in salty water.

“Obviously the dilutionary effect of sea water, you know, it’s not going to be an effective way of getting it, if you’re out in the sea,” he said.

“It probably doesn’t like that environment very much.”

People sit at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast.

Queenslanders have been asked to keep a distance from each other to avoid contracting COVID-19. Photo: ABC News/Cathy Border

Professor Gilks said sitting at home and not exercising was a greater concern.

“One of the problems that I see is with having to stay indoors, working from home encourages sedentary behaviour,” he said.

“It’s very important for your physical health and your wellbeing to keep your weight under control and to try and retain fitness.”

On Sunday Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said Queenslanders could go to the beach to exercise or swim, but “don’t sunbake or congregate”.

‘Keep active’

Fitness Australia chief executive Barrie Elvish said they had initially been pushing for gyms to be allowed to stay open as an essential service, but limiting gatherings to two people made it impossible.

He urged people to keep exercising.

“Keeping active and practising a regular exercise routine is a great way for people across the country to keep their physical and mental health in good shape, especially as isolation starts to take a toll,” he said.

Associate Professor Griffin urged caution in picking what time to go out and about.

“What we don’t want is people [to] go out exercising and congregate in a big group and spend time chatting or get a coffee or whatever together, which is a risk,” he said.


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