The UK government has introduced strict new lockdown rules in the hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus.
Along with the closure of non-essential shops across England, the authorities have also introduced new rules for exercising during the pandemic, limiting outside activity to once a day.
But the government’s guidance on keeping fit and healthy have caused some confusion, particularly among cyclists, due to the ‘stay local’ advice.
The government website says: “You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to: exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.”
We asked Cycling Weekly readers to share their thoughts on the guidance to find out if the rules have impacted their riding.
Ralph Stephenson, from Wakefield, said: “[The guidance is] too ambiguous and leaves too much to interpretation by individual police officers.
“Cycling with previous lockdown rules helped me cope with the pandemic – now the new rules make me feel anxious, expecting to be pulled over by the police and being fined.”
The definition of ‘local’ has been under debate after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised by political rivals for riding his bike seven miles away from home, at Olympic Park in Stratford, East London.
Norman Saunders, who lives in rural North Devon, said : “‘Stay local’ is vague in the extreme and open to broad interpretation, which is typical of our governments all too opaque approach to this crisis. Should I interpret the advice as ‘local’ meaning North Devon in general, or staying within a couple of miles of home?
“It’s making me think about what is appropriate. I live in a large and busy village and if I stay within the immediate area for my rides, I will likely encounter more than a hundred people – cycling, walking, jogging, shopping, or going about their daily business, but if I go further afield, into the surrounding countryside, the only people who I am likely to see are in cars or farm vehicles. I always cycle alone and can ride for miles and see nobody at all and if I do happen to meet anyone, social distancing is simple.
“So the dilemma for me appears to be ride around the village and perhaps not social distance as well as necessary, or ‘break’ the regulations, use my common sense and cycle for miles, totally alone.”
Phil Bradshaw, from South Wales, said: “Doesn’t currently apply in Wales but used to and has never made any sense at all. In terms of risk of transmission it clearly can make no difference whether you pass someone one mile from home or 20.
“Any argument that you need to be within walking distance of home is weak and spurious. As long as you don’t need emergency services it is irrelevant. In terms of accident risk and burden to the NHS there is no evidence to support it.
“If I kept ‘local’ to my town I have to contend with traffic, multiple junctions, bad roads, parked cars etc. Five miles away I can choose clear quiet low risk routes.”
While the Labour Party has criticised the PM for riding away from home at the Olympic Park in East London, government ministers and police have said the ‘stay local’ guidance is open to interpretation.
The current government guidance for exercise in England says people should minimise the time spent outside of their home, but that you can leave home for exercise.
You can exercise outside by yourself, with the people you live with, with your support bubble, or with one person from another household.
But the guidance also says your exercise should be limited to once per day and you should not travel outside of your local area.
Cycling Weekly contacted the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for further guidance, but a spokesperson directed us back to the guidance published online.
The rules for Scotland say you can exercise up to five miles from the boundary of your local authority area and you must start and finish in the same place.
Wales has no limits on distance, but guidance says the nearer you stay to your home, the better.
In Northern Ireland, people are advised not to go more than 10 miles from home during exercise.
Sarah Matthews, from West Sussex, said: “I have a hill for reps that takes me no further than 5 miles from home and an 18 mile circuit that takes me max of nine miles from home. Gets a bit boring but timing myself for each lap adds something.
“Would love to support a local vineyard selling coffee but don’t think a cafe ride is in the spirit of reducing human contact. It’s a case of making the most of what you have rather than fretting about what you don’t have.
Jenny Routley said: “Total garbage, my average ride is of 60 miles I’m not looping around a local five mile circuit to do that.
“I consider local on a bike to be of a radius of around 20 miles.”
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said earlier this week that ‘local’ is open to interpretation, adding that if you can get there under your own steam and are not interacting with anybody that seems perfectly reasonable.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick also said local is open to interpretation.
Terance Shepardson, from London, said: “I reduced the amount of cycling outside overall (not just distance-wise), but not so much because of the new ‘guidance’, but due to the current state of the pandemic. I feel like if I were to get in an accident and required urgent medical attention it would be removing some capacity of the healthcare system from other places where they may be more urgently required.”
Ian Fraser Cannock, from Staffordshire said: “I think it could be clarified as to what ‘stay local’ actually means. As some of the devolved nations have actually defined how far you can travel from home. Perhaps the government should take this approach to make it clear. Most of us cyclists would abide by the guidance and advice, we just want to be able to get out and cycle.”