Images over the weekend of people sunbathing or doing yoga in parks have dominated the news media. They have caused some councils to close parks and discussion in Whitehall about tightening the lockdown, banning all outdoor exercise.
This would be a dramatic step and there is a very good reason why this is being described as a ‘last resort’ move. For many, exercise is a lifeline. Cramped and busy accommodation means that for great swathes of the UK population, it is the only exercise that is possible. We also know that in tough times, physical activity can really help improve not just physical health but mental wellbeing as well.
We must also understand that many of the people who are sunbathing or hanging around a basketball court are not doing so because they are ignorant or do not care about the spread of coronavirus. They are doing so because it has not so far been adequately explained why, if they are doing so without anyone else close to them, they are harming the national social distancing effort.
The reason is two-fold and we must as a society ensure that these reasons are explained repeatedly and clearly. The first is that we must act in a way that assumes that everyone else will follow. If we allowed sunbathing for example, it is not hard to imagine a sunny day where the whole park is mobbed with sunbathers. Suddenly your harmless alone time turns into a crowded arena for the virus to spread.
The second reason is to minimise the time spent outside. The simple truth is that the more time spent outdoors, the more likely we are to contract or to spread coronavirus. We are more likely to touch surfaces that others have touched and to come into contact with other people. That is why we are only instructed to go outside for essential reasons.
Exercise is an essential activity for good reason. For many people it is what is going to get them through the outbreak physically and mentally intact. We must facilitate this as much as possible but be very clear that any activity helps to spread the virus and we must, for the time-being, keep time outside to a minimum.