Why can’t we go camping during lockdown?

why can't we go camping in lockdown

How come we can go to the shops and exercise but not go off by ourselves to camp at a national park, or local camping ground?

These are good questions, and there’s no short answer. The more we move around, the greater the chance of a virus spread. Mobility = mortality. Every pandemic ever has taught us that.

It’s that simple. When you go camping you, at a minimum, get fuel you wouldn’t have otherwise needed. Every servo is a great place to spread a virus, with shared pumps, doors, close proximity.

And when you’re actually camping, there’s a high risk of touching things others have touched, for example drop toilets, picnic tables, camp payment boxes, even signs which people look and and naturally touch. There’s also the risk of accidents on the road, or needing 4×4 recovery, or other assistance. And any accident response is likely to consume health resources which are being preserved for COVID-19.

Now you’ll all say “well that’s not me, we’re experienced, free campers, self-reliant” and all the rest of it, which is the standard human response to any risk you name – the “won’t happen to me, I’m special” response. This attitude is so well known there’s even a name for that attitude – optimism bias.

So let’s say camping is thrown open again, and everyone goes as usual, say 5000 people, just like on any long weekend.

What are the chances of none of the above events happening to any of them? Even to the best? Not zero.

Evidence? Look at the road toll every long weekend, it goes up…why? More people on the roads = more accidents, and now, more virus transmission. Yes, even perfect campers get involved in accidents. Not their fault of course.

What if you asked all the people who go camping every long weekend on the Friday if they would be involved in some sort of problem? None would say yes. Never happened, won’t happen, we know what they’re doing, we will take precautions, we’ve never had any issues, we won’t stop for a cheeky coffee on the way, it’s those other 4999 idiots, not me.

And many people don’t do remote camping, they go to caravan parks where they share toilets, shower, cooking facilities, games rooms…breeding ground for virus transmission.

So any restriction lift would need to define the difference between remote camping and caravan park camping. That means it gets really hard to define differences for the general population, easier and safer just to say no to all camp for the time being.

Now do you *need* to go camping? Can’t think a reason why, unless it’s your profession and you write about it…like me, but even I’m staying home. Whereas going to earn money or buy food is a need, not a want. That’s the difference between camping and going for groceries.

To stop the virus spread, wants are out, only needs allowed. Indulging your needs is being selfish – you’re increasing the community risk just that little bit more, just like every person who doesn’t accept a vaccine and reduces herd immunity.

And don’t forget the effect on remote communities, which by and large haven’t had many COVID-19 cases (they’re spared at least that). Every traveller, every city dweller is a source of risk to those communities, and they haven’t got the medical resources cities have to deal with outbreaks.

Now all that said, as the virus spread is controlled, restrictions can and should start to lift. When they do, it should be gradual, as again pandemic history shows us outbreaks do occur, and indeed in recent days we’ve seen just that in Victoria and NSW. The only reason those outbreaks haven’t gone wider is the existing lockdown measures, and the quick response. So my suggestion for a lift process would be:

  • bush camping (no facilities) within 100km of home;
  • bush camping (facilities eg toilets, tables); and
  • caravan parks last.

There is less risk remote-camping than say 25 people at a restaurant, and of course we have to think of the bushfire areas that need visitors more that ever, and even the non-bushfire areas. But, you only need to look at recent restriction lifts in Queensland to see what happens…lots of people ended up in a park next to each other. That would be the other 4999 idiots, then. Oh, wait…you want the restrictions lifted just for you?

Regardless, I hope restrictions are lifted soon, because we need to balance public health vs effect on economy. The direction the country needs to take is now, and always will be a delicate balance between health priorities, economic interest, and public freedom. This is why being a pollie is a tough job, because whatever you do, one of the experts in your ear will tell you different and you need to balance them. It’s been said a good negotiation is when all the parties walk away happy!

Every indication is that we’re over the worst of it and we’ll be back to a semblance of normal, but not fully normal, quite soon. I say ‘semblance’, because like 9/11, this pandemic will change society permanently. Exactly how nobody knows, but it will. We’re all way more comfortable with video meetings for work, social and romance now for example, lots of people have learned how to work out at home without relying on gyms, and online car racing has grown massively over the last several weeks (read our intro!)

Surely we can wait just a bit longer?

“1100 people die on our roads, yet we still drive, how is this different?”

It’s different because viruses can spread exponentially, and harm millions very quickly. Remember, back in December 2019, there was literally ONE person in the world who had COVID-19. ONE. Now there’s nearly 4 million just 5 months later. How’d that happen?

That one person back in December 19 maybe infected others, probably several. But let’s say just two people. Each of those two people infect two others, so now we’re up to four. Each of those infect two, and we’re up to eight. Then 16, 32, 64, 128, 256…imagine the numbers if each person infected several others, not just two. Oh wait, you don’t need to imagine – it’s reality – 4 million, of whom 260,000 have died, and the rest require medical care.

Road accidents, on the other hand, don’t infect people and multiply exponentially, so there’s no comparison.

But if you mean risk vs life, then yes that’s a tradeoff. There absolutely is a value placed on human life – councils look at road traffic stats and decide which intersections to fix, knowing that the ones they don’t will kill people (the 4999 idiots again). Same deal with COVID-19, the health risk to society needs to be weighed against the effect on the economy. Which is why restrictions will be slowly lifted.

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Automotive technical journalist specialising in 4X4s, camping, racecars and towing. Has designed and run driving courses covering offroading driving, winching, track racing and towing. Enjoys most things involving wings, wheels or sails. Follow me on Facebook and YouTube if you want explanations you won't find anywhere else!


  1. This is probably the best thing I’ve read all year. I’m dying to go camping and I’m devastated I have to cancel my birthday camping trip. And I was one of those “I can go to coles but I can’t seclude myself in the bush” thinkers. But this makes so much sense. Covid is far from over but we need to wait it out.

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