Why shouldn’t people sunbathe?

Brockwell Park in London was closed after what Lambeth council called ‘unacceptable behaviour’ by residents at the weekend.

The problem, said the council, was ‘sunbathing’, which went against the ‘clear advice’ from the government about the ‘essential reasons’ for which you may leave your home.

The sunbathers came in for much flack on social media, where they were called ‘selfish idiots’ (and worse), who are risking lives and killing others.

But really? As one tweeter pointed out, the 3000 people in Brockwell Park at the weekend meant 170 square meters per person. The photos showed people lying singly or in pairs, at a substantial distance from each other.

There is far more risk from the police going around, telling people off, than there is from the people lying there.

There is far more risk from someone going to the supermarket – which regulations permit them to do – than there is lying 20m away from someone else on empty grass.

Let’s not repeat the ‘stay home, save lives’ mantra like robots, without thinking about what is sensible or right. Let’s not believe that following government regulations to the letter will mean that we won’t get coronavirus or transmit it to others.

The government regulations give 13 reasons for which people may leave their homes, and to some extent will be enforced by the police. But that doesn’t mean they are right.

Why is it essential for a minister to go to their place of worship, but not for a person to leave their studio flat for an hour when they are going crazy? Why is there not the exemption (as in France) for people to take autistic children to spaces they feel comfortable? Or for people to take their children out when they are climbing the walls?

Why is exercise okay, but not sitting on a park bench or lying in the sun? Is it only marathon runners who are able to get some headspace, but not the injured or elderly, or non-runners?

There seems to be an unthinking deification of these government regulations, and assume that any deviation from them is killing people. In truth, there is no ‘Gospel of the 13 Reasons’.

If what you are doing means keeping a safe distance from others, you are causing no more risk than if you had stayed at home.

People should use their judgement a little more, and have a little sympathy for their fellow citizens. We do not know what someone is going through, or what is ‘essential’ to them. The possessors of gardens are very quick to judge those of cramped quarters who must flee to parks for some fresh air.

Never before has your exact personal situation – the size of your house, whether you have a garden, your immediate environs – had so much effect on your quality of life.

Of course, non-household groups should be avoided, and if necessary broken up by police. But the people lying a distance from others are not harming anyone. Families taking their kids for some fresh air are not putting anyone at risk, only making their own lives more bearable.

The regulations are law, but they are so specific as to be unenforceable as law. The police have admitted that they cannot check the contents of people’s shopping, or check every person’s specific journey.

We should not treat these hastily compiled regulations as the last word on how we should conduct ourselves. After all, the government hasn’t exactly excelled in its organisation of the coronavirus response. Why should we trust them on this?

Getting through the lockdown means not only slowing the virus, but also keeping in a good mental state, and continuing to live happy(ish) and productive(ish) lives. It means people with depression not falling into a hole, people keeping each other’s spirits up, keeping their children happy and active. It means supporting each other, and looking out for each other.

We should enjoy the sight of people enjoying themselves in a park, taking a break from the relentlessness of house arrest. They are not hurting anyone, and they are making their situation a bit more bearable. They look happy, and relaxed, and these are rare sights right now. What is it that drives others to pour vitriol upon their heads?

True citizenship is to help one another get through this, as healthily and happily as possible – not to police each other’s compliance with the ’13 essential reasons’. This means relying more on our own judgements of risk.

Simple adjustments can allow people to safely share the same space. Park advice for joggers to run on the grass is very sensible. We can keep 2m from others while going about activities in public spaces, such as crossing the road or passing people with a wide berth. This cannot be enforced by law, or by a police officer on every corner, but only by people being conscious of what they are doing.

People being conscious and responsible would keep us far safer than the petty box-tickers who keep referring to ‘government advice’ and checking if theirs and everyone else’s actions correspond to it.

The snipers and snitches are not helping – in fact they are weakening the responsibility and civic spirit that is essential to us beating this virus.