Visitors flock to parks and beauty spots on first lockdown weekend despite 'stay at home' pleas

Ross McGuinness

Watch: Rural village ‘invaded’ during first weekend of new lockdown

The vaccines minister has said he is “worried” after images of large numbers of people in parks and beauty spots emerged at the weekend.

Despite the government’s “stay at home” plea, the first weekend of England’s third national coronavirus lockdown saw many people visiting the country’s green spaces.

Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, said he was concerned people are not complying with social distancing rules in parks.

“I’m worried about some of the pictures I’ve seen of social interactions in parks, if you have to exercise you can go out for exercise only,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

Under the current lockdown rules, an individual can meet one other person from a different household outside for exercise.

A day after London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the spread of Covid is said to be out of control, South Londoners take their exercise in a cold Brockwell Park in Lambeth and during the third pandemic lockdown, on 9th January 2021, in London, England. The Coronavirus infection rate in London has exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 people, based on the latest figures from Public Health England although the Office for National Statistics recently estimated as many as one in 30 Londoners has coronavirus. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)
People walking through Brockwell Park in London on Saturday during the first weekend of the new lockdown. (Getty Images)
A day after London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the spread of Covid is said to be out of control, South Londoners take their exercise in a cold Brockwell Park in Lambeth and during the third pandemic lockdown, on 9th January 2021, in London, England. The Coronavirus infection rate in London has exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 people, based on the latest figures from Public Health England although the Office for National Statistics recently estimated as many as one in 30 Londoners has coronavirus. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)
People walk through Brockwell Park in London on Saturday. (Getty Images)

However, prime minister Boris Johnson and senior ministers have discussed scrapping this exemption, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Asked about reports of incoming stricter measures, Zahawi said: “We don’t want to use tougher measures, the lockdown is tough, schools are shut, but it is important to remember this virus loves social interactions.

“We’re reviewing all the restrictions, but these are pretty tough at the moment.”

On Monday, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned that queuing outdoors could pass on coronavirus, but that joggers running past is low-risk.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If people, for example, are crowded together in a queue… if they’re really huddled together around a market stall or something, that is a risk with this virus.”

But he dismissed suggestions that fleeting contact in the street, such as a jogger running past, could be a risk.

“Very short contact like that, outdoors, is extremely low-risk.”

In a separate interview with BBC Breakfast, Prof Whitty acknowledged that some people felt “imprisoned” by previous shielding rules in the first lockdown last March, meaning they have been “slightly relaxed” this time round.

At the weekend, London’s open spaces such as Brockwell Park, Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, Victoria Park and Richmond Park were all busy with visitors.

Outside the capital, there was anger after lines of parked cars were captured on camera at the North York Moors National Park in Yorkshire.

The beauty spot’s Moorland Organisation shared a video taken on Sunday along the road showing vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper at Blakey Ridge.

(Reach)
Cars parked bumper-to-bumper in the North York Moors at the weekend. (Reach)

In its post, the organisation asked: “Is this necessary travel for exercise?

"Is it sensible to drive out onto the moors and risk putting added pressures on the emergency services? Who seriously thinks that this is acceptable?”

There were also complaints that the village of High Spen, near the beauty spot of Chopwell Wood in Gateshead, was “invaded” with visitors on Saturday.

Video footage showed lines of vehicles parked along the village’s usually quiet streets.

One resident, a 57-year-old woman who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Our village of High Spen has been invaded.

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Cars parked in the village of High Spen near Chopwell Wood at the weekend. (Reach)

“I am totally disgusted by selfish people ignoring COVID rules. I understand that people are allowed exercise, but this was taking it to the extreme.”

At Dovestone Reservoir in Greater Manchester, motorists were issued with fines for parking on double yellow lines, as social media users described the attraction as “rammed” on Saturday.

Johnson said it would be “far, far better” for people to follow the existing rules than to introduce new measures.

“Everybody should be asking themselves whether they need to be leaving home, whether they need to be doing something that could actually end up spreading the disease,” he said.

“When people are getting takeaway drinks, in cafes, then they need to avoid spreading the disease there, avoid mingling too much.”

Asked about the confusion over whether people could consumer takeaway coffees in public, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Takeaways are allowed, or restaurants, or cafes are allowed to provide takeaways.

People walk in a park in central London on January 9, 2021 as life continues under Britain's third lockdown in a bid to control surging cases of Covid-19. - Britain is under a renewed lockdown to try to cut spiralling coronavirus infection rates and deaths blamed on a fast-spreading virus variant. Stay-at-home restrictions, which involve closure of school for most children and all non-essential retail, allow for some forms of outdoor exercise once per day and are expected to last until at least mid-February. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
The first weekend of the new lockdown saw thousands of people in London's parks. (AFP via Getty Images)

“People are allowed to leave their homes if it’s for exercise… not socialising.”

“Going for a walk, obviously, does count as exercise.”

Devon and Cornwall Police deputy chief constable Paul Netherton warned that people are getting “fed up” of lockdown restrictions and compliance has dropped.

“What’s happening is people are beginning to flout the rules, they are beginning to think ‘how can I get away with the rules?'” he told BBC Breakfast.

People walk in a park in central London on January 9, 2021 as life continues under Britain's third lockdown in a bid to control surging cases of Covid-19. - Britain is under a renewed lockdown to try to cut spiralling coronavirus infection rates and deaths blamed on a fast-spreading virus variant. Stay-at-home restrictions, which involve closure of school for most children and all non-essential retail, allow for some forms of outdoor exercise once per day and are expected to last until at least mid-February. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Parks in London were busy at the weekend. (AFP via Getty Images)
A day after London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the spread of Covid is said to be out of control, South Londoners take their exercise in a cold Brockwell Park in Lambeth and during the third pandemic lockdown, on 9th January 2021, in London, England. The Coronavirus infection rate in London has exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 people, based on the latest figures from Public Health England although the Office for National Statistics recently estimated as many as one in 30 Londoners has coronavirus. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)
Brockwell Park in London was busy on Saturday. (Getty Images)

On Sunday, scientists called for the introduction of stricter “Asia-style” lockdown rules to tackle the new COVID-19 variant.

It comes after the British Medical Association reported that more than 46,000 doctors and nurses have contracted coronavirus, while health chiefs said some patients have waited up to nine hours in ambulances outside hospitals.

On Monday, England opened seven large-scale vaccination centres as the government aims to offer jabs to 15 million people by the middle of February.

Watch: Lockdown rules are ‘not boundaries to be pushed against’

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