I am as stunned as everyone else at the pictures and videos appearing of crowded public spaces this weekend. People were arrested for having a b-b-q on a beach, while others couldn’t see anything wrong with sunbathing or busking. 3,000 souls visited one London park which has now been closed, meaning the people who use it for their permitted daily exercise in the concrete jungle we call our Capital now can’t. FFS.
The Government website lists 4 reasons why we can leave our home:
- shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
- one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
- travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home
Despite this, some people are deliberately flouting the rules while others are doing so unwittingly because the rules are ambiguous and open to interpretation.
1. SHOPPING FOR NECESSITIES
There is no ambiguity here. You can collect a prescription or visit a pharmacy for medicines. You can visit the shop or supermarket for essential food items. End of story.
Despite that, some people still aren’t getting it. On my daily run out on my mobility scooter last week, I met an elderly chap in my village out on a walk. He was telling me he still drives a mile in his car to the next village each morning to buy his newspaper and couldn’t see anything wrong with that. He wasn’t being defiant or malicious, he just didn’t get that this wasn’t an essential journey for necessities and I think many folk are making journeys simply because they’re not grasping the concept of essential.
Early on in the pandemic, before lockdown, my Dad was also walking daily to the supermarket for his newspaper. He liked the exercise, enjoyed the social interaction and sitting with the paper and his breakfast was his favourite part of the day. I had to be very firm with him to stop doing that once lockdown was announced and arranged to have his newspaper delivered instead.
2. DAILY EXERCISE
While on the face of it this appears a simple instruction to follow, it’s actually caused huge confusion and I think the government needed to be much more clear on what this entails. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, appeared on Question Time last week to clarify the position and ended up, in part, muddying the water further.
He said that a walk for an hour, or a cycle ride for half an hour, in the area where we live, would seem sensible but that if we’re up to it we can exercise for longer. NO Mr Hancock. You give clear instructions and the instructions should be we can walk for up to an hour, or cycle ride for up to half an hour, in the area where we live, and that should be it.
Much confusion has arisen over whether we can drive short distances, park up and exercise on, for example, a public footpath. In our rural village this has caused aggression and vigilanteism, with people putting notices on parked cars, ranting on Facebook and me personally being verbally attacked. This, at least, was clarified by Mr Hancock who states very clearly that it is permissible to drive up to 5 minutes in the area where we live, park up and then walk with our pets or household members.
This instruction is really important for someone like me. I am in the vulnerable group, and caring for parents in the shielded group. I have been very strictly self-isolating for 3 weeks now so that I can continue to provide face-to-face care for people who can’t manage on their own for the next 3 months. I have mobility problems of my own and can’t walk for up to 5 minutes some days, let alone a mile, but I still need to get fresh air and let my dog have a poop. However, I want to exercise in very quiet parts of my area to avoid coming into contact with other people, so I have been driving maybe ¼ mile outside my village and parking up to walk my dog, either on the way back from an essential trip to care for my parents, or on the way to. It’s great that the Health Secretary has now clarified that this is permissible.
3. ANY MEDICAL NEED, INCLUDING CARING DUTIES
This seems straight forward, but it took a lot of reading and reassurance that I was still allowed face-to-face visits to care for my parents. You can’t just pop in to check your elderly relatives are OK. You can drop off shopping and prescriptions, but these need to be left on the doorstep and the relative should then take precautions when bringing supplies inside the house, ie disposing of plastic bags, then wiping down cardboard or other packaging then thoroughly washing their hands.
Where you can provide face-to-face care is if the person has an essential daily need they cannot perform themselves. In the case of my parents they can’t change beds, do heavy laundry, my Mum needs help with bathing and neither can bend to do things like clean the toilet (vital during my Dad’s recent bowel infection). I am, however, limiting my visits to once a week (I usually go much more than that) and taking the necessary precautions, eg. I am strictly self-isolating myself, when I visit the first thing I do is wash my hands and dry them on a towel kept especially for me, and I keep 2m away from my parents unless I’m performing personal care.
Having said all that, I am technically breaking the rules. You are only supposed to provide face-to-face care if you fulfil all of the following criteria:
- you are well and have no symptoms like a cough or high temperature and nobody in your household does
- you are under 70
- you are not pregnant
- you do not have any long-term health conditions that make you vulnerable to coronavirus
And there’s the rub. ME is classed as a neurological disease, and therefore I am on the Government list as a vulnerable person. So I shouldn’t really be visiting my folks. Here’s where common sense kicks in though. I have been in strict self-isolation for 3 weeks. I have not been shopping, or out in the community other than a short walk each day in the countryside where I live, and I am taking strict precautions when bringing items into my home so as not to bring the virus in on packaging. A paid carer from an agency, OTOH, would be visiting other people as part of their job, would be mixing with their own families at home and would be out in the community doing their food shopping etc. The safest person to provide face-to-face care for my parents is, therefore, clearly me.
Other family members are cooking meals for my parents and leaving them on the doorstep, and going to the pharmacy to collect their medication so that I’m not having to do it which would mean me coming into contact with the outside world. It’s a team effort.
4. TRAVELLING TO WORK BUT ONLY IF YOU CAN’T WORK FROM HOME
This is the worst piece of advice by far. The Government hasn’t said you can only go to work if that work is essential, they have said you can work if you can’t work from home which applies to half the flippin’ population! So some folks are carrying on work as normal, which is really angering the other half who are stopping at home and suffering huge financial losses as a result. The anger, and resentment, is only going to build as the weeks drag on.
In my very rural area, we have a large mine and factory which provides work to thousands of local people. None of them can work from home, but the factory is still shut because it would be impossible to social distance.
Next door to me, a couple are having their house renovated. They aren’t living in it, so it’s empty, and the builder is coming as usual to work including having deliveries of supplies. There were 2 of them there last week and I have no clue if they were adequately social distancing.
Why should the builder be allowed to work and have his usual income, where all the factory workers can’t?
As you know, I have a furniture upholsterer who has a business at the end of my drive. The day after lockdown was announced he was there as usual, with 2 of his employees, all traipsing up the drive to my and my neighbours’ homes when we are all in the vulnerable group and strictly self-isolating. He even still had customers, walking up the narrow driveway just feet away from where I and my neighbours live. I emailed him to say he was not an essential worker and could re-cover a chair in his own home, but he replied saying he couldn’t and he was still allowed to work. I’m not sure who is right or wrong! He feels justified to be at work and I feel he is putting our health at risk having a business which uses our domestic properties for access, literally less than a foot away from my 80 year old neighbours’ front door.
The Government should have drawn up a list of essential workers and banned anyone else. I still can’t believe they haven’t done that. We are not “all in this together” if some are being given preferential treatment. I understand the economic arguments but it’s no good having a strong economy if a quarter of its consumers are dead.
So while Mr Hanocock feels he’s been “very clear on this” he absolutely has not and IMHO this needs to change.