Obeying the Rules – whatever they are

My last post about Covid was philosophical. This one is political – not that this should be a huge leap.

Apologies to non-UK readers. This is about how the UK is handling the pandemic, and actually just one aspect. Rules about exercise.

The stated rules for our second lockdown say – STAY AT HOME except for a few things, including exercise in a public pen space IN YOUR LOCAL AREA. The local area is not defined. At one point it was “your quarter of your town or city”, which doesn’t help if you’re in a village. If “quarter” is taken literally – 25% – that means you could travel from Greenwich to Bromley, but not from one end of Manningtree or Accrington to the other. Or it may have that other common meaning of “neighbourhood” as in “the Chinese quarter of Newcastle”, which is about four streets and like many urban neighbourhoods, has no public open space to speak of.

It appears that people are being fined by the police in some areas for driving a few miles to exercise when they believed they were within the law. So the process seems to go like this:

1: Government makes a vague law which can’t be enforced without making it specific.

2: Government declines to clarify.

3: Police make their own decision – say, “up to five miles is OK, but no more”.

4: They don’t tell people what the rule is.

5: They catch people breaking it and fine them.

I’ve had good friends in the police; I’ve often in my work days worked well with police officers. One relative was a copper for most of his working life. But this is all just a bit like a police state.

OK, the main priority is to cut Covid deaths. For that, a second lockdown is probably the right measure and maybe should have come sooner. But are these rules helping? During the first lockdown, some police forces applied a rule which never had legal justification, that people could not drive at all to a place to exercise. Given that many people had dogs or restless children, but were scared to drive, they clustered in places on the edge of town. In my coastal town, there is only one. It was crowded. Bad for reducing transmission, surely? Then people realised the no-driving rule had been dropped and they spread out. Much easier to avoid getting too close. Now, though, people don’t know if even a four-mile journey might get them in trouble. Result: they’re clustering together again.

Stopping people going even a few miles would make sense if the virus was localised in a few pockets, but it isn’t and won’t be. That might have worked right at the start – not now.

I can be persuaded. But I’ve yet to hear why driving ten miles to exercise where few people are is more dangerous than driving one mile to where lots of people are.