Coronavirus: Downing Street criticised over 'mixed messaging' on visiting parks during lockdown

Government urges public to ‘give the park a miss’ despite allowing outdoor exercise

Peter Stubley
Sunday 05 April 2020 17:05
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Coronavirus: Sunbathers in parks are breaking government restrictions, says health secretary

Downing Street has been criticised for telling the public to “give parks a miss” just 90 minutes after saying they could visit parks for exercise once a day.

The contrasting guidance was issued by the prime minister’s official Twitter feed on Sunday amid an escalating row over the use of public spaces during the coronavirus lockdown.

It followed warnings that the UK government could ban outdoors exercise if members of public continue to flout strict coronavirus guidelines on social distancing.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said that people sunbathing in parks during the warm weather were breaking restrictions outlined by Boris Johnson almost a fortnight ago.

The guidance has so far allowed people to leave their homes to exercise once a day as long as they are either alone or with members of their household, and not in groups.

At 1.38pm, 10 Downing Street repeated the guidance in a tweet headed: “Can I go to the park”. It added that gatherings of more than two people were banned and police had powers to disperse groups and issue fines.

However, at 3.30pm the same official account urged the public to “give the park a miss”, adding: “Spending time in the park this weekend could put lives at risk. Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

TV presenter Piers Morgan was among those criticising the government’s approach, commenting: ”Yet more stupidly dangerous mixed messaging”.

“You literally said an hour ago it’s ok to go to the park,” another user added, while another asked: “So are we allowed out to exercise or not? If No 10 thinks the rules are insufficient then No 10 need to change the rules. All they are doing now is sowing seeds of confusion.”

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Others called for the government to close parks or highlighted the failure of Scotland’s chief medical officer to follow lockdown rules.

In London, Lambeth Council made the decision to close Brockwell Park after complaining that more than 3,000 people had visited on Saturday and that the level of sunbathing was “unacceptable”.

Mr Hancock said: “If you don’t want us to have to take the step to ban exercise of all forms outside of your own home then you’ve got to follow the rules. Let’s not have a minority spoiling it for everybody.”

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