People should avoid hotspots on summits. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

People should avoid hotspots on summits. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Rescuers in Wales have issued advice for walkers and outdoor enthusiasts as the government announced a slight easing of lockdown from Monday.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said people in Wales would be able to travel a short distance to take exercise.

He said this would generally mean up to five miles from their home. The public will also be allowed to undertake longer walks, runs or cycle rides as long as they set off from their home. Water activities will also be permitted, but only in a person’s local area.

The Welsh Government said scientific evidence suggests that the Covid-19 virus decays quickly – within a few minutes – in strong sunlight. “This means that being outdoors gives a much lower risk of transmission than being indoors,” it said.

“In light of this, there are no longer legal restrictions on the type of outdoor activity you can undertake within your local area, how often you can go outdoors or how long you spend outside. Indeed, exercise and other outdoor recreation is generally beneficial for health and wellbeing, and so it is strongly encouraged.”

People are still advised to maintain social distancing of two metres.

In a joint statement, North Wales Mountain Rescue Association and South Wales Search and Rescue Association thanked the public for staying off the hills so far during the pandemic.

They said: “The volunteers who provide this emergency service, thank all those who have taken heed of notices not to venture onto the hills or mountains during the strict lockdown period.

“It has been remarkably quiet for all the teams which we have truly appreciated.

“The First Minister’s announcement today said some restrictions are being relaxed from Monday. Restrictions will now permit some additional travel to be allowed up to about five miles from your home.”

The teams, including lowland search and rescue and cave rescue, said people should be prepared to be more self-reliant and even consider self-rescue, as it may be more difficult to respond to requests for help.

The statement said: “Reduce the risk of needing to call for assistance by taking fewer risks, keeping to familiar routes, being suitably equipped and more self-reliant.

“Consider self-rescue. Shout to others in the area. If you really are lost or stuck and cannot self-rescue, then DO call 999. Ask for the police and then ask for mountain rescue. The team leader may be able to locate you through your mobile phone and be able to guide you to safety.

“If there is an injury or illness, in your group, carry out first aid and if necessary, DO call 999. Ask for police and mountain rescue. Accidents DO happen. We volunteer to assist those in need.”

“You should consider carrying additional clothing and sustenance in case the rescue team takes longer to get to you. Remember, we too have not been able to climb the mountains to maintain hill fitness.

“In addition, you might want to consider taking a Buff or face mask of your own, so as to protect others and hand sanitiser to protect yourself. Just think how many people ahead of you opened that gate or grabbed that hand hold and now you are rubbing sweat from your face or eating your sandwiches.”

The teams said people should also follow the official advice to avoid hotspots and choke points. Social distancing rules are valid in the car parks, if open, at public toilets if available, on footpaths and footbridges, summits and picnic tables.

Rescuers explained why their volunteers’ response may not be as swift or as comprehensive as normal.

  • A number of the teams are reduced in operational size, as many of our volunteers are employed as key workers and must be very careful about taking additional risks
  • This results in fewer people to carry the equipment needed for a callout. For example, for a lower leg injury incident on the hills, the team will need first response sacks, shelters, casualty bags, medics’ bag, oxygen and Entonox gases, a stretcher, ropes plus much more
  • One of our big changes is the increased need for additional PPE that will have to be worn by members. This includes wearing full waterproofs, regardless of the heat, face masks, surgical gloves and eye protection. This not the usual kit for striding up the hills with an additional rescue load and will also have an impact on our operational effectiveness due to the risk of overheating and fatigue
  • We have to maintain social distancing as best as possible. This means fewer members to load up team vehicles; more members using private vehicles to go directly to a rendezvous point. This has an impact on parking and congestion issues. These concerns continue onto the hill. We will be trying to keep the hill teams together, but 2m apart. This is almost impossible in some places and not feasible when we are assembling and rigging the rescue equipment on site and carrying the stretcher from the hills
  • We have a revised administration process of our first aid and casualty care systems, as we have to be very careful we don’t do any medical interventions on a casualty which could increase the potential spread of Covid-19
  • On a regular basis, we work with different helicopter services. These are also the under the strain of adapting to new processes, therefore their service may be reduced too
  • Our post-callout procedures have also dramatically increased in time and effort. A full decontamination of team members’ personal kit at home; the full decontamination of the rescue team kit, vehicles and bases must be done after every callout. We don’t want to spread this disease. This is time consuming and is an additional cost to the charities
  • We have had to create an administration process to keep in touch with the casualty and their party for three days, plus also all team members involved with the incident to check for any symptoms of Covid-19
  • And if one of the above becomes positive, it means isolation of all the others for 14 days.

The spokespeople for the teams added: “Don’t spread disease but DO spread these words to others who may be thinking of coming to the hills and mountains of Wales.

“Please remember: we are here to help not judge. Accidents may happen to any of us. Please try to be safe, stay safe and help to keep us safe.”

Unlike England, unlimited travel to exercise is not permitted under lockdown regulations in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

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