The pictures of people sunbathing in parks and on beaches across the country have made one thing clear: we need to start taking social distancing seriously if we’re going to flatten the coronavirus curve.
One of my favourite things to do at the weekend is take my dog for a walk. It sounds pretty simple, but the act of getting outside, spending time moving my body and having a natter with my Mum is the perfect stress reliever at the end of a busy week in the office (or my dining room table, as the whole working from home situation now requires). We’re also lucky to live near lots of open spaces which makes dog walking a breeze – drive 10 to 15 minutes from my house in the right direction and you find yourself in the middle of nowhere.
So this weekend, in light of the coronavirus pandemic – and the government’s advice to practice social distancing – we headed for one of those remote, empty spots, to ensure we didn’t come into close contact with anyone.
What we found, however, was the complete opposite of empty. The car park, which is usually populated by one or two cars at most, was overflowing. The grass banks used to separate the parking spaces had vehicles balanced on top of them, and the verges on the road leading up to the car park were lined with even more. In one corner of the carpark, a few campervans had even parked up and started a BBQ. If I were none the wiser about what’s going on in the world, I’d probably have thought it was a bank holiday weekend.
And I’m not the only one who’s noticed this weird sense of relaxation. Across the country, public places have been inundated with people enjoying the sunshine as if everything is normal. Snowdonia National Park reported the “busiest visitor day in living history” yesterday after unprecedented numbers of people visited the site. Pictures from parks and markets across London posted earlier today (22 March), show crowds of cyclists and people walking within close proximity. And the same goes for beaches up and down the country, from Brighton beach in East Sussex to Portobello beach in Edinburgh.
As the number of cases grows and the pressure on the NHS continues to escalate, seeing this many people gathering in the same place is cause for concern. Of course, it’s OK to go outside and get some fresh air – doing so is incredibly important for our mental health (and still recommended by the Government) – but only when we stay two metres away from people.
If we all went for a cycle or a walk on our own or with the people we live with then we’d be fine – but gathering with friends or family outside our household just isn’t a good idea right now. Meeting up with friends – or walking in close proximity to others – isn’t safe just because you’re outside, and even if you think you’ll be OK if you catch the virus (it affects young people too, by the way) you could be endangering the lives of others by coming into contact with them.
This burst of activity in the parks isn’t the only violation of social distancing measures we need to worry about, either. Some people seem to believe that social distancing involves meeting up with friends, hosting dinner parties or having a house party for “one last hurrah”. Newsflash: it doesn’t.
It’s okay to socialise with the people you live with (unless you’re showing signs of the virus, then you should be self-isolating), but inviting people round to your house or popping round to someone else’s just isn’t a good idea. The fact of the matter is that just because restaurants and pubs are closed, doesn’t mean it’s OK to take the party (or brunch meetup) inside. After all, these places are closed for a reason: to stop people gathering. At all.
If we’re going to win the fight against coronavirus (and reduce the number of lives that are going to be lost along the way) we need to take this whole thing a lot more seriously. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m finding it hard to grapple with the severity of all of this, but the most basic thing we can all do is simply avoid going out in large groups or gathering close to other people.
Making sure you keep your distance from others isn’t just a good idea for your health, it has the potential to save lives.
What is the Government’s advice on social distancing?
The Government says it’s OK to go outside for a walk, as long as we’re able to stay more than two metres away from people. That means if you arrive at a place and find it full of people, it’s probably a good idea to turn around and go somewhere else, as the number of people may make it hard for you to stay safe. If you find yourself in an area where lots of people are gathering, try to make sure you maintain that two metre space between yourself and others.
As the official advice reads: “Understandably, you may find that social distancing can be boring or frustrating. You may find your mood and feelings are affected and you may feel low, worried or have problems sleeping and you might miss being outside with other people.
“At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour which in turn can make you feel worse. There are simple things you can do that may help, to stay mentally and physically active during this time.
“Keep your windows open to let in fresh air, get some natural sunlight if you can, or get outside in the garden. You can also go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others.”
The Government have also made it clear that we shouldn’t be seeing our friends and family – instead, we should be making use of technology and speaking to them remotely.