This post was published on Saturday 21 March and was accurate in the UK until 8.30pm on Monday 23 March (which in the current climate is a pretty long time!). There is a new post with the latest advice here. Those outside the UK might still find these words useful.
What a weird and unprecedented time we are experiencing at the moment. We’ve been thrust into global uncertainty and chaos thanks to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As someone who spends a lot of time harping on about the benefits of spending a little bit of time outside every day, both through Ordnance Survey’s GetOutside campaign and through my own One Hour Outside project, I felt the need to address how the outside can fit in with social distancing.
In short, in answering the question whether going outdoors is safe during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll happily join with my friends at Ordnance Survey (you can read their full statement here) and say – yes! For most, it is still safe to get outside, but you may need to change the way you do it for the time being.
You have probably seen lots of posts on social media along the lines of (always in capital letters) “STOP. GOING. OUT.” Many people believe that social distancing means you must not leave the house. Some people even suggest you are very selfish if you so much as open your front door. But please know that this is not the case. As at Saturday 21 March (when I wrote and published this post) for the majority of people here in the UK, those without underlying health conditions, those under 70 years old and those without symptoms, we are not on lock-down and we are not in quarantine or self-isolation; we are being asked to adhere to social distancing.
We are not being told to avoid going outside or exercising outside – you can, and should, leave your house to go for a walk. In fact, it states within the government’s guidance for social distancing: “You can also go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than two metres from others.”, and the UK’s Chief Medical Officer said: “It is very important that children and adults take exercise, and being outside in the park is a very good thing to do.”
Getting One Hour Outside, whether it be in your garden, going for a walk from your own front door, wandering around one of the many greenspaces you will find on your local OS Map (the very handy greenspace layer is free to use on the Ordnance Survey website), or heading to your local nature reserve (check it’s open), is arguably more important than ever. Getting fresh air and natural light, along with a little bit of exercise, is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing. I for one will be doing it as much as I can whilst keeping a distance from people not in my household.
The things we need to remember are to consider how close you are to others (you should be at least 2m away from anyone not from your own household), don’t go to crowded areas, stay in the open air, remember to practice excellent hand and face hygiene, and keep yourself up to date on the latest advice. If you seek safe opportunities to get outside and to be active, whilst avoiding unnecessary social contact, then you’re good to go. That means don’t join group activities, don’t arrange to meet friends or family from different households, don’t play team sports, don’t go to a crowded beach or attraction, and don’t travel huge distances to climb up to that must-see-view.
Instead, explore your local area, grab a copy of your local OS Map (find out which one you need here) and see which footpaths you can follow, or just leave your front door and wander in a direction you’ve not been before. For those of you living in very urban areas it might feel more of a challenge, but thankfully none of us is ever far from a bit of greenspace in the form of a park or field.
Yes, we should only be travelling if we have to, yes we should be working from home if possible, yes we should avoid visiting friends and relatives, especially those who are over 70 or have underlying health issues (and if you are one of those then unfortunately you really do need to stay at home and keep your outdoors time to your own garden). But it is super important that we get outside for at least a few minutes each day; it’s possibly one of the best ways to look after yourself during this worrying time.
Of course, this is not the case in every country across the world, please check the advice for where you are, and it also may well change (I really hope it doesn’t get any more restrictive).
Stay Safe and Don’t Be a Burden
While I’m here I must urge you not to use this as an excuse to head too far away from home. Please make sure that you are sensible and don’t find yourself too far off the beaten track – now is not the time to need Mountain Rescue or a trip to the hospital if you can help it. One of the reasons we are being asked not to travel far is that we don’t put too much additional pressure on the health services in places where they are already stretched; I’m thinking about the stories I’ve heard this weekend of people flocking to Snowdonia and Cornwall to escape. Escaping to the outdoors is absolutely fantastic, but don’t make yourself a burden on others or cause locals in these small places any more stress than they’re already under. If in doubt, leave your car at home and get your One Hour Outside time on foot from your own front door – there is nothing wrong with staying local.
Share your One Hour Outside Adventures
I would dearly love to hear your One Hour Outside mini adventures during this weird period of social distancing. Use #OneHourOutside on your favourite social media, tag me if you like, and let me know what you get up to. I’ve got at least a couple of posts planned to hopefully give you some ideas and inspiration on what you can get up to when the novelty inevitably wears off, but feel free to send your ideas and suggestions my way too.
If you follow me on social media you will have seen my post expressing my frustration with the whole situation. Not because I don’t understand why we’re here, but because social distancing has meant that all my plans over the next six weeks have been cancelled, and I’m feeling sad and disappointed about that. The fact is, social distancing is boring and frustrating, and it can very easily lead to bad habits and unhealthy behaviour. A little bit of time outside each day can certainly help to combat that.
Hang in there friends, take it easy, observe social distancing as much as you are able, make the most of your time away from crowds and the business of public spaces, and let’s all have a party on a hill when this is all done. In the meantime, I’ll continue to post here on Splodz Blogz, hopefully to inspire and motivate you during this weird time, and afterwards.
If you want more advice on getting outside during the coronavirus outbreak, my friend Andrew of Walks Around Britain fame has written this excellent article on the subject, and you can always refer to Ordnance Survey and their response. And always, please remember to get your health information and advice from official sources such as the NHS and Public Health England, not just from facebook.