Londoners have been urged to ditch the car and enjoy their local parks, so that those without gardens can enjoy their own neighbourhoods during lockdown.
In an open letter to the public, the City of London, Royal Parks and Lee Valley Regional Park Authority called on people to stick to their local green spaces as Covid continues to spread across London.
“For the next few weeks, we urge you to leave your cars behind and seek out those parks and green spaces closest to home, if you can. Please do the right thing, play your part and help protect others,” the letter read.
“Not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden, and there are few places where people can go outside to get a change of scene and to boost their physical and mental wellbeing.”
The Royal Parks, which manages the capital’s main green spaces including Hyde Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park and Regent’s Park, said it was currently “a challenge to deal with the vast numbers of people visiting”.
The move follows reports over the weekend that Londoners continued to hit soak up the winter sun in the capital’s parks despite stay-at-home orders.
The Daily Mail reported that a group of five people were spotted enjoying a sit-down picnic in Greenwich Park on Sunday, after parking their next to a stack of bikes against a nearby tree.
Ministers last week scrambled to clarify current lockdown rules after two women were fined £200 each when they drove five miles for a walk in Derbyshire.
The move was met with stiff criticism after Boris Johnson’s seven mile cycle ride to the Olympic Park in Stratford the next day failed to produce financial repercussions for the Prime Minister.
Under current restrictions, people are allowed to exercise outdoors with one person outside their household, though they are encouraged to do so close to home.
Derbyshire Police insisted driving to exercise was “not in the spirit” of the most recent lockdown, before apologising to the two women.
Meanwhile, Number 10 instead the PM did not break lockdown rules, while urging people to exercise in their local neighbourhoods.
City officials cited the mayor of London’s decision earlier this month to declare a “major incident” in the capital after warning the spread of the virus was now “out of control”.
Major incidents have previously been declared during the Grenfell Tower fire, London Bridge terror attack and Croydon tram crash in 2016.
They are defined as being “beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations” that will likely involve “serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security”.
“The situation is now critical,” the Royal Parks said in the letter. “The government is clear that you should minimise time spent outside your home, but you can leave your home to exercise. This should be limited to once a day, and you should not travel outside your local area.”
It comes after figures released today showed London saw the biggest drop in Covid case rates of any English region last week, although the capital remains the most infected area in the country.
Dr Vin Diwakar, head of the NHS in London, said the health service was beginning to see “glimmers of hope” that current lockdown measures were pushing down the capital’s infection rate.
However, he cautioned that the reduction had not yet translated to easing pressure on London hospitals, which are still at risk of being overwhelmed.
Speaking at the same Downing Street press conference, Priti Patel today announced a new £800 fine for people attending gatherings of 15 or more, as the home secretary warned police would step up enforcement of lockdown flouters.
“The science is clear. Such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant risk to public health, not only to those in attendance but also to our wonderful police officers who attend these events to shut them down,” she said.