© Provided by The iThe study was conducted from the beginning of January to the end of April (Photo: AP/Yorgos Karahalis)
Spending more time in the sun could significantly reduce your risk of dying from Covid-19, according to a new study.
Researchers have found that when age, ethnicity, occupation and other risk factors are stripped away people living in the north of England are twice as likely to die if they catch the virus as those in the south - and they think it's down to the lower levels of sunshine, although they do not yet know why.
"You should go to the beaches and get in the sunshine. Sunlight is free, it's available to everyone and it costs nothing. At the moment the Government says get outside because it's well ventilated - and that's good. But the benefits go beyond that," said Richard Weller, of Edinburgh University.
"If you live in the Isle of Wight you are half as likely to die of Covid as somebody living in Northumberland, assuming the same age and other risk factors. So it's about a halving between the north and south of England and in Scotland the difference would be even greater," he said.
"If we can find out how it is that sunlight gives benefit that suggests a new treatment. Our study should definitely be taken into account by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and the Government when deciding on public policy," Dr Weller said.
He said the benefits of extra sunshine in the UK, with its relatively modest levels of sunlight, are much greater than they would be in much sunnier climates.
"As you get sunnier the benefits from the same increase get less, so the big benefits are us getting more sunlight in Britain. One of the great mysteries of Covid is about why deaths have apparently been low in Africa and I think at least part of it is to do with sunlight," he said.
The study was conducted from the beginning of January to the end of April, when sunlight was too weak to have any significant effect on vitamin D levels, meaning it was not responsible for any of the benefit seen in the study, Dr Weller said.
He also carried out two related studies, in Italy and the US, which found the same relationship between risk and sunshine.
Although sunlight plays a key role, the death rate from Covid in the north is not twice that of the south - in part, because the south is more crowded and has greater ethnic diversity, with some minority ethnic communities more vulnerable to the virus, Dr Weller said.
Although confident in his findings, he cautions that the study was 'observational' finding an association between increased sunlight and lower death risk rather than a direct link - which needs to be established through further research.
The study is published in the British Journal of Dermatology.