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