Can I go for a walk? The coronavirus lockdown, explained

The Government had advised everyone against social contact outside the home but in a dramatic address to the nation on Monday evening, the Prime Minister announced a raft of new, tighter measures to try and halt the spread of the coronavirus.

For the next three weeks you will only be able to leave your house for one of four reasons:

  1. Shopping for necessities
  2. Once a day for exercise
  3. Medical need or providing care
  4. Travelling to or from work (if you can’t work from home)

If these rules are broken, the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

So what does this mean for a host of everyday activities? Here, we interpret the guidelines. 

Travel and work

Everyone, even the young and healthy, must now avoid non-essential public transport and try to avoid rush hour, varying their usual travel times to prevent crowding. This includes buses, trams, commuter trains and national rail services.

Key workers will still need to use public transport, so it is best to keep at least 6.5ft (two metres) distance from the next person and stay well clear of anyone displaying coronavirus symptoms such as a high temperature and a continuous cough.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has asked rail companies to keep as many services running as possible to provide space for passengers to comply with social distancing requirements, suggesting the Government is not expecting people to stop travelling entirely.

Walking outside is safer, but avoid touching railings, buttons at pedestrian crossings etc. If this is unavoidable, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Travelling by car or bike or any other form of personal transport should only be undertaken for the four reasons outlined above . The Government has advised Britons against travelling out of the UK for the next 30 days unless absolutely essential.

Everyone should now be working from home unless it is not feasible to do so. For example, goods drivers, delivery and transport workers and those working in the emergency services will still need to carry on their jobs. Face-to-face meetings should be replaced with video calls.

Shopping, going out and religion 

Pubs and restaurants were told to close and now other businesses must pull the shutters down. All non-essential shops are closing. Excluded are shops that sell food, pharmacies, corner shops, hardware stores, petrol stations, pet shops, post offices, banks, newsagents and shops inside hospitals.

Parks will stay open. What will be closed? Kiosks, all places of worship except funerals. All gatherings of more than two people are going to be banned except for members of your own family. This is for three weeks starting immediately.

Police will have power to issue on the spot fines of £30 for meeting without good reason.Takeaway food should be a safe option, particularly if delivered, as long as restaurants practise good hygiene. Visiting shops for anything other than essential items is best avoided in the near future.

The Church of England has announced that public worship is suspended until further notice. Church buildings will no longer remain open for prayer.


Gyms including outdoor gyms and playparks are among the businesses ordered to keep shut, but keeping fit and healthy is essential during a health crisis, so people can still get out and about to exercise but they must stay do so alone or in pairs.

Parks will remain open for exercise and dog-walking purposes but keeping apart from other people is the main goal. Gatherings will be dispersed.

Walking dogs in quiet areas is unlikely to spread the virus. Robert Dingwall, a professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University and a government adviser on the social dynamics of infectious disease outbreaks, urged common sense, saying: “If you have a dog, take it out for walks – but don’t stop to hang out with other dog walkers. If you usually walk down to the local convenience store, keep doing that – just pick a quiet time to do it.”  

Older people, especially, are advised to make sure they still get fresh air, perhaps by getting into the garden. 

The UK has now followed France, Italy and Spain where people’s movements have been restricted by police. In those countries, however, curfews have been imposed, parks closed and all stores except food shops and pharmacies shut.

People should avoid visiting the shops, even to get essentials, if they or a member of their household displays symptoms of coronavirus.

The official government advice states: “Keep your windows open to let in fresh air, get some natural sunlight if you can, or get outside into the garden. You can also go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others.”

It is important to take extra care when out and about, regarding every surface as being contaminated and avoiding touching gates, fences and railings. Even if you feel healthy, you may be infected so clean your hands regularly to avoid infecting others. If you meet people when out and about, try to keep a distance of two metres.

Older people should try to remain active and strong, as six out of 10 falls happen at home. Health experts are recommending that people carry out strength-building exercises if they are unable or unwilling to leave the house.

Professor Sir Muir Gray, an expert in healthy ageing at Oxford University said: “Being active can have a significant impact on preventing dementia and frailty.”

 Many exercise studios and gyms have started releasing online classes so people can stay active while socially distancing.

Visiting friends and relatives

The new guidance proscribes gatherings with friends and family. People are now urged instead to contact others by phone, or on the internet or social media using apps like Whatsapp, Messenger, Zoom and others.

However the guidelines say social distancing should be done “as much as is pragmatic” and for a host of regions it may not be sensible or practicable to avoid contact with others. 

People providing essential care for others, such as helping with washing, dressing or preparing meals, should carry on as usual but take extra care with hygiene. 

Greater care should be taken to avoid visiting the over-70s and those with health conditions, but popping in to see a healthy friend or relative is unlikely to cause the virus to spread if both are practising good hand-washing. If you do visit friends or relatives, avoid physical contact with others in social situations, including handshakes, hugs and kisses.

Older people in care homes should try to avoid visitors as much as possible until the spread begins to die down.

The chief medical officer for Scotland, Dr Catherine Calderwood, has suggested that older people should reduce their social contact by 75 per cent rather than shunning visitors completely. 

Studies on isolation during the Sars outbreak showed that increased levels of anger, anxiety and alcohol abuse were common side effects of long-term self isolation. Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust, said it was more important that ever to maintain social interactions and communication, adding: “We need personal physical distance, yes, but socially [to be] closer than ever.”

Medical appointments 

Many people will have dental or doctor’s appointments in the coming weeks, and the Government is asking people to talk to their GP or clinician to discuss whether to come in or postpone them. 

Visiting a GPs surgery should pose no problems for people showing no symptoms of coronavirus, but it is better to seek advice online in the first instance and Boris Jounson has said people should avoid unnecessary visits to the NHS. 

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “If you have chronic lymphatic leukaemia and have to go to hospital once a month for treatment and you stopped going, your leukaemia would worsen and your life would be shortened. 

“But there are lots of other routine visits that aren’t as important, so you have to balance the risk. I think a lot of these will be cancelled anyway when we move to the main peak of the outbreak.”

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