Police should not be allowed to suspend quality of life

There are a worrying number of examples of the police going out of their way to impose needless restrictions upon people, under the guise of the Coronavirus threat.

These include –

– One man on Facebook reported that police were shouting with megaphones at a couple sitting on a park bench, telling them to move on. They were allowed to walk or run in the park, apparently, but not sit.

– Footage of police ordering people off Shepherd’s Bush Green, where they had been lying in scattered pairs or family groups, saying ‘it’s not a holiday, it’s a lockdown’.

– Derbyshire Police posting drone footage of solitary walkers in the Peak District, saying that their travelling for exercise was ‘not essential’.

The aim within the lockdown should be to reduce risks to public health from social gathering, while allowing people the greatest autonomy and quality of life possible.

There is no reason why someone should be not allowed to lie on grass or sit on a bench, so long as they are a reasonable distance from others. People living in cramped urban flats need to get out; they may want to exercise or they may want to sit on a bench. If they are elderly they may only be capable of sitting on a bench and looking at the sky.

Derbyshire Police had to admit that there is nothing in the Coronavirus law or regulations that prevents people from driving in order to exercise or walk their dogs. There is nothing that prevents people from exercising twice a day.

Given that the lockdown could go on for weeks, or even months, maintaining a reasonable quality of life is essential. Solitary walks in the Peak District, or lying in the sunshine of a London park, are more important than ever.

A spot of common sense was sent to me by a councillor for Sevenoaks Council, who is offering more liberal and compassionate advice to local residents. He says that there is no reason they should not walk in the countryside, exercise more than once a day, or leave home to carry out other tasks such as mowing:

in a district which is 93% green belt there are plenty of places where…it is possible to remain a proper distance from other people, the footpaths in Ash are obviously the most isolated but it is more than possible to remain properly socially distant in every outdoor space in Ash and New Ash Green…

Locally, the vast majority of people are abiding by the proper distancing rules in outdoor spaces and, if you are doing that, then I suggest you can decide for yourself how seriously to take the idea of only leaving the house once per day for exercise.

For example, I’ve been asked whether it is acceptable to spend time, alone, mowing the outfield of the cricket ground. Clearly this can be easily done without putting yourself or anybody else at risk, so the answer must be yes.

The UK must avoid at all costs the misery being inflicted upon French and Italian citizens, who are subject to unnecessarily strict controls.

In Italy, mayors have been filmed shouting at people playing table tennis on an empty beach (‘you can’t play ping pong; go home and play Playstation.’) It was only recently established that Italians had the right to take their children out for walks, as well as their dogs.

In France, people can only exercise for one hour, and within 1km of their home – meaning that it is impossible to drive 10 minutes to reach nearby empty countryside, or to go for a long run or bike ride. In 10 days, the French police gave out 225,000 fines; the third offence carries a fine of 3750 euros and six months in prison. Unsurprisingly, domestic violence cases have shot up by nearly 40% in Paris.

The question police should be asking is not, ‘can I stretch the rules to stop this person?’, but ‘is what this person doing posing a public health risk?’ If not, they should be allowed to continue.

There is no reason why people should not be mowing the cricket pitch, walking in a beauty spot, or sitting on a park bench.

People should be accorded the maximum quality of life and autonomy as is compatible with public health. This is not some liberal frippery but is absolutely essential.