Anger over packed Lon­don trains as most of UK heeds calls to stay home

The Guardian - - News Coronaviru­s - Steven Mor­ris Alex Hern Vikram Dodd

Groups tak­ing trips to beauty spots and some non-es­sen­tial work­ers were among those who con­tin­ued to flout Boris John­son’s ad­vice on phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing yes­ter­day.

In Lon­don, there was anger over crowded trains and tubes, with unions say­ing doc­tors and nurses were be­ing put at risk by be­ing jammed into pub­lic trans­port with non-es­sen­tial work­ers.

Parks and beaches were sig­nif­i­cantly qui­eter than at the week­end and shop­ping cen­tres al­most de­serted – but groups of peo­ple, in­clud­ing teenagers and fam­i­lies, were still out and about in the spring sun­shine.

The Welsh gov­ern­ment took strong ac­tion, shut­ting car­a­van parks and camp­sites and or­der­ing hol­i­day­mak­ers home, ar­gu­ing that this was an im­por­tant tac­tic to save lives.

Sta­tis­tics, how­ever, show that most peo­ple were fol­low­ing the prime min­is­ter’s ad­vice. Trans­port use was down, restau­rant book­ings nonex­is­tent and more peo­ple than ever are work­ing from home.

De­spite pic­tures of packed tubes and trains on so­cial me­dia, peak Lon­don con­ges­tion was down two-thirds on Mon­day morn­ing com­pared with a typ­i­cal rush hour, ac­cord­ing to the sat­nav firm TomTom.

Ci­tymap­per, a Lon­don-based trans­port app, re­vealed that Lon­don, Birm­ing­ham and Manch­ester regis­tered sig­nif­i­cant drops in pub­lic trans­port use, down to 23%, 25% and 26% of nor­mal pat­terns re­spec­tively.

The com­pany’s sta­tis­tics for Lon­don mir­ror those be­ing stud­ied in gov­ern­ment, which the Guardian un­der­stands showed tube travel down 81% com­pared to a nor­mal day and bus travel down 69%.

Bri­tain was lag­ging be­hind some other coun­tries in the ex­tent of its phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, how­ever. Mi­lan has seen peak con­ges­tion fall by 90%.

With thou­sands of NHS and other key work­ers through­out Lon­don still need­ing to travel to work, as well as many busi­nesses be­ing ad­vised but not forced to close, a re­duced sched­ule on the net­work led to peo­ple be­ing forced close to­gether.

Finn Bren­nan, dis­trict or­gan­iser for train driv­ers’ union Aslef, said Lon­don Un­der­ground staff were “fu­ri­ous” that tube trains were packed yes­ter­day. He added: “This is en­dan­ger­ing the health of the vi­tal work­ers who have to use the sys­tem. The gov­ern­ment must act now to en­sure only es­sen­tial jour­neys are made.”

Away from Lon­don, city parks were qui­eter and peo­ple tended to spaced them­selves out on benches, but some could not re­sist go­ing out in small groups. In Cambridge, a cou­ple were spot­ted punt­ing on the River Cam be­fore the boats were packed away. Chil­dren also were seen play­ing to­gether on the swings in a play­ground in the city.

The news that McDon­ald’s was clos­ing its restau­rants from 7pm on Mon­day led some peo­ple to jump into cars and head to the drive-throughs. Big queues were seen in Birm­ing­ham, Wir­ral, north-west Eng­land, Rom­ford in Es­sex, and Sleaford in Lin­colnshire. In Mans­field, Notts, staff were forced to man­age the queues.

Car­a­van parks and camp­sites in Wales were closed to vis­i­tors yes­ter­day. Peo­ple vis­it­ing Welsh car­a­van parks or camp­sites will be asked to go home un­less there are ex­cep­tional rea­sons why they should stay. All chil­dren’s play ar­eas in Cardiff were also closed.

Snow­do­nia’s na­tional park au­thor­ity an­nounced it will close its main car parks fol­low­ing “the busiest visi­tor week­end in liv­ing mem­ory”.

The moun­tain res­cue ser­vice in Eng­land and Wales called on peo­ple to stop head­ing to the hills and tak­ing “un­nec­es­sary risks” af­ter na­tional parks were in­un­dated.

At the week­end, teams helped search for a five-year-old child near wa­ter­falls in south Wales, res­cued climbers from Sur­rey in dif­fi­culty on Snow­don and re­cov­ered a man who had suf­fered a heart at­tack from Kinder Scout, a moor­land plateau in the Peak Dis­trict . Some res­cues were ham­pered af­ter car parks over­flowed and ve­hi­cles blocked vi­tal ac­cess routes.

Mike France, se­nior ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Moun­tain Res­cue Eng­land and Wales, said it had been a “crazy week­end”. He warned that walk­ers, cy­clists and climbers get­ting into dif­fi­culty may face long waits to be res­cued and urged them to stay at home.

To stop the spread of the coro­n­avirus, Boris John­son has urged peo­ple to steer clear of each other when they leave their homes. So what is the new eti­quette?

Stand well back

Phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing means leav­ing two me­tres of space between peo­ple. That is just un­der 6ft 7in

– a lit­tle less than the height of the for­mer Eng­land striker Peter Crouch, or roughly the length of two stan­dard su­per­mar­ket trol­leys.

“If some­one comes up be­hind, it’s tricky. It may cre­ate a slightly tense sit­u­a­tion,” said Dr Michael Head, a se­nior re­search fel­low in global health at the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton.

“We should be em­bold­ened and em­pow­ered to be able to say to them, ‘Please just take a step back.’

“We’re not used to do­ing it. We are quite re­served as a na­tion.”

Some su­per­mar­kets are help­ing shop­pers by plac­ing sticky-backed mark­ers on the floor two me­tres apart. Andrew Opie, the di­rec­tor of food and sus­tain­abil­ity at the Bri­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium, said re­tail­ers were em­ploy­ing a num­ber of mea­sures to help shop­pers keep their dis­tance, in­clud­ing “con­trol­ling the flow of cus­tomers into stores, plac­ing floor dis­tance guides for those queu­ing in­side stores, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with cus­tomers” to re­mind them of the im­por­tance of dis­tanc­ing.


In the UK, jog­ging and run­ning are among the few out­door ac­tiv­i­ties still avail­able. Run­ners should keep their dis­tance, though the risk of pass­ing on the virus is small. “There will be a risk there, but it will be a very small risk,” said Head.

“You are run­ning up be­hind some­one and past them. The time you will be close to them will be min­i­mal. So the risk of trans­mis­sion at that pre­cise point will be very, very tiny. The def­i­ni­tion of a con­tact thus far is within two me­tres for 15 min­utes. So if you are on pub­lic trans­port, or stuck in a restau­rant with some­one, that has the po­ten­tial to be a con­tact there. If you are run­ning past some­one for a few sec­onds, in an out­door space as well, the risk of trans­mis­sion at that point is tiny.”

Run­ners, how­ever, are known to spit – and that poses a dif­fer­ent prob­lem. The is­sue was ad­dressed by Amy Treakle, who is an in­fec­tious dis­ease spe­cial­ist with the

Poly­clinic in Seat­tle, who has said: “Covid-19 is spread by res­pi­ra­tory droplets when a per­son coughs or sneezes, and trans­mis­sion may oc­cur when th­ese droplets en­ter the mouths, noses, or eyes of peo­ple who are nearby.

“Spit con­tains saliva but could also con­tain spu­tum from the lungs or drainage from the pos­te­rior na­sophar­ynx.”

She has also ad­vised against shoot­ing mu­cus out of your nose. The new eti­quette, in short, is do nei­ther – at least around any­one else.


Spring sun­shine led to thou­sands leav­ing towns and cities for Bri­tain’s beaches and wide open spa­ces.

Such crowds present se­ri­ous risk: even those who even­tu­ally man­aged to find a de­serted spot would prob­a­bly have had to ne­go­ti­ate a busy car park.

The walk­ing char­ity Ram­blers UK ad­vises peo­ple to only walk lo­cally, in places that can be ac­cessed with­out a car or pub­lic trans­port. “Avoid busy places, in­clud­ing pop­u­lar parks, beauty spots or beaches,” it said. Keep two me­tres apart and “avoid touch­ing gates, fences etc”. “If you do, clean your hands with anti-bac and wash your hands as soon as pos­si­ble.”

It is con­sid­ered po­lite to of­fer to give way should you find your­self headed to­wards oth­ers on the same path. Try not to force the other peo­ple to ask. Head said: “If you have anx­i­ety, for ex­am­ple, and you’ve gone out for a walk to re­duce that anx­i­ety, what you don’t need is to have to ask peo­ple to get out of your way. It’s a tricky thing to do any­way.

“It’s up to all of us to recog­nise that other peo­ple might not be willing to speak up.”

Gloves and wipes

Should you whip out the an­tibac­te­rial wipes or don the rub­ber gloves?

“I think we need to try as far as pos­si­ble not to be em­bar­rassed by lit­tle things that we might pre­vi­ously have been em­bar­rassed about,” said Head. “It’s per­fectly fine to wash your hands in pub­lic be­fore and af­ter touch­ing door han­dles and screens. It’s a key mes­sage that peo­ple need to carry on do­ing.”

As for gloves: “If peo­ple feel re­as­sured by that, then wear gloves.”

▲ Pas­sen­gers squeeze on to a Cen­tral line tube train at Strat­ford yes­ter­day

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