Walkers at Malham before the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Walkers at Malham before the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

People in England will be permitted to drive to destinations to take their exercise from Wednesday.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement in a televised address on Sunday.

He added: “We want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise.

“You can sit in the sun in your local park; you can drive to other destinations; you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”

But the change in guidance marks a divergence in the home nations to the approach to lockdown.

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments have not adopted Westminster’s relaxation.

However, in Wales and Scotland, people will be allowed to take more than one session of exercise per day from Monday. In England, the regulations have never actually limited the amount of exercise, though official guidance suggested one run, walk or cycle ride each day was advisable.

The Crown Prosecution Service issued guidance to police early on in the lockdown saying, in England, driving to take exercise would not be deemed illegal if the exercise was for a longer period than the walk.

However, police in honeypot areas such as the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales have been turning back and, in some cases, fining visitors to the area deemed not to be making essential journeys.

The Northern Ireland Government said on Thursday its regulations would not change.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “Based on the evidence and advice provided to us by our scientific and medical professionals on the current transmission rates of the virus, and the significant level of risk in the relaxation of measures at this stage, we were not in a position to ease any of the restrictions following this most recent review.

“The next statutory review of the regulations will take place before 30 May but we are committed to keeping them under continuous review and if we reach a point where we can make changes to specific measures before then, we will do so.”

Visitors will still not be able to travel to areas in Scotland from their home. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Visitors will still not be able to travel to areas in Scotland from their home. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “This news will undoubtedly be disappointing for many people who have done a fantastic job of following the measures in place for the last six weeks; but I know that people will also understand that this is a precarious situation and lives depend on the approach we take at every juncture.

“We are appealing to the public to be patient and continue to abide by the regulations.”

Boris Johnson said more people would be encouraged to return to work if they were unable to work from home. “And when you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle.”

When taking exercise, he said: “You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.”

The British Mountaineering Council, which represents climbers, mountaineers and hillwalkers in England and Wales, had called for a united approach from the UK’s four nations.

But Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday: “Let me emphasise at the outset that the lockdown in Scotland remains in place.

“As I have set out before, the rate of transmission of the virus in Scotland – the R number you are used to hearing about – is still too high for any significant change to be safe at this stage. Indeed, the R number may, as I said earlier in the week, be slightly higher here than in other parts of the UK at this point.

“At present, you are only permitted to leave home to exercise once a day. From tomorrow, that once-a-day limit will be removed.

“So if you want to go for a walk more often – or to go for a run and also a walk later on in the day – then you can do so.

“It is important to stress this new advice does not apply if you or someone in your household has symptoms of the virus, or if you received a letter explaining that you are in the shielded group. In those cases, the advice is still to stay at home completely and not go out at all.

“And for everybody, all other lockdown restrictions remain in place.”

“When you are exercising, you must stay relatively close to your own home and at all times at least two metres away from people from other households.

Snowdonia has closed many of its mountain paths. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Snowdonia has closed many of its mountain paths. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Ms Sturgeon emphasised that activities included in the English guidance were not included in Scotland’s regulations. “Although the rules permit exercise, such as walking, running or cycling, they do not yet extend to outdoor leisure activities such as sunbathing, picnics or barbecues.

“The fact that you are allowed to exercise more than once is definitely not – and I want to stress this point – a licence to start meeting up in groups at the park or the beach. Doing that really does risk spreading the virus, and could potentially force us to reintroduce stricter guidelines or toughen up the regulations and penalties in future.”

She added that the Holyrood administration was not adopting the Westminster government’s widely criticised change of slogan from Stay Home.

The First Minister said: “To that end, I have asked the UK Government not to deploy their Stay Alert advertising campaign in Scotland. Because the message in Scotland at this stage is not stay at home if you can, the message is, except for the essential reasons you know about, stay at home full stop.

“Go for walks or runs more than once a day if you want to – it’s good for your health and your physical and mental wellbeing. But stay more than two metres from other people when you are out, and do not meet up with people from other households.”

In Wales, the Cardiff government also said people should stay local for their exercise. The administration has introduced regulations allowing the closure of rights of way in national parks such as Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, where large visitor numbers early in the coronavirus outbreak made social distancing impossible.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the government was now allowing people to exercise more than once a day, but people should stay local. This means any exercise should start and end at home and not involve going a significant distance from home.

National park authorities have repeatedly appealed to visitors not to come to their areas during the Covid-19 crisis, saying local infrastructure and businesses could not cope with large numbers of people arriving in their rural villages.

Mountain rescue teams across the UK have also pleaded with people not to take to the hills as their volunteers would be put at increased risk of contracting the virus if called out to casualties, putting them and their families in danger of becoming unhealthy.

They also pointed out that some of their members are key workers with jobs in the NHS, meaning their services were in high demand during the pandemic.

Neither the national parks nor mountain rescuers have yet responded to the changes in guidance.

The BMC said earlier this week: “A plan of action for how lockdown will phase out is crucial. This will help the BMC, other representative bodies, landowners, national parks and local authorities, among others, formulate plans and guidance for each phase of easing, and communicate this ahead of any changes.

“Having a clear way forward will help manage the rush to the hills and gain buy-in from the public in general and rural communities in particular.”

It suggested people should scale back their ambitions, undertaking any activity at a level well within their ability to reduce the small risk of accident, which could put rescue services at risk of transmission.

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