The primary message is to stay at home. But we can exercise and engage in essential activities outside the home. There has been confusion about what we can do and what is forbidden. In the first ten days of the lockdown many people didn’t know what was being asked of them or just decided to ignore advice and party on. A minority of police actions, including flying drones to film walkers and threatening to check shopping baskets for non-essential goods, threatened to undermine the long established principle of policing by consent.
Now there is greater clarity from police. This will benefit people who live in the Ludlow area who often drive short distances to walk in Mortimer Forest or on the Clee. There has been clarity from Shropshire Council too that farmers are not allowed to block footpaths during the Covid-19 emergency.
After many well publicised incidents, clarity was urgently needed on how the government’s health protection regulations should be interpreted by the public and police forces across England. That has now been provided. It offers greater flexibility withing the regulations and the social distancing rule because it recognises that the coronavirus restriction regulations specify activity that activity outside the home requires “reasonable excuse” and is not just restricted to “essential activities”.
What constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live was produced by the College of Policing on 9 April and published on the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s website. It is indicative advice and not a definitive interpretation of the regulations.
A brief guide to what is allowed and what is not
Shopping. Both weekly and daily shops for basic food, snacks, luxuries and alcohol are allowed, as is collection of surplus food from a friend and takeaways. There is no ban on buying non-essential items if someone is out shopping already. Tools and supplies for repairs, for example due to weather damage can be purchased, but not for redecoration or improvements.
Exercise. Running, cycling, yoga, walking in the countryside and cities, and working on an allotment are all allowed. “It is lawful to drive for exercise.” People can drive to and from a walk providing “far more time is spent walking than driving.” They can stop to rest or eat while on a long walk. People can exercise more than once a day in there is “reasonable excuse”. Driving for a long period for a short walk is out, as is a short walk for a long stay on a bench.
Work and volunteering. Key workers and non-key workers can travel to work “where it is reasonably possible to work from home”, as can essential and non-essential workers under the same circumstances. There is no requirement to have written proof of the need to go work or volunteering. “Police should not ask for ID documents or any other kind of document. A person can deliver food packages to vulnerable people. There is no requirement for volunteers to work for a registered organisation or charity, or for the volunteering to be related to Covid-19.
Other reasons. An animal can be taken to the vets for treatment but not where a phone call would suffice, including for renewal of prescriptions. People can move to a friend’s address for several days if they need a cooling off period following arguments at home. But friends can’t meet to socialise in a home or in public.