Due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19, rock climbing is currently either unadvised or banned in France, Spain and Italy. Despite these bans being announced online in the past week, we are still noticing logbook entries for crags in France and Spain.
Aside from the risk of transmission to other climbers, travelling to outdoor locations often means contact with vulnerable, elderly communities with limited access to healthcare facilities and treatment. In addition, the risk of injury during outdoor activities resulting in people taking up ICU beds and medical resources during a pandemic is another consideration that some authorities and many climbers around the world are currently measuring up.
In France, outdoor physical activity is restricted to a 2km zone around the home, while cycling was banned today by the government, with fines being imposed for unabiding citizens. The FFME have strongly recommended that climbers and outdoor enthusiasts stay at home. 'If they appear to you to be risk-free, these activities remain a breeding ground for the spread of the virus and, at this stage, it seems unthinkable not to do everything in our power to contain it. Furthermore, it would be inconceivable to take the slightest physical risk: an injury, even the slightest demand on a health professional, would continue to clog a health system that is already on the verge of saturation,' an FFME press release reads. In Chamonix, the PGHM have asked climbers to 'reduce to a strict minimum, ideally to suspend' mountain activities.
In the USA, as National Parks shut, climbers flocked to Bishop and other climbing hubs such as Moab in the belief that these places were justifiable self-isolation or social distancing spots, without reflecting on their impact on local communities. Comments online by leading athletes and community members pleaded with climbers to stay away from these areas.
In Fontainebleau, climbers were reported to be 'vanlifeing' at illegal campsites in close proximity, while physical activities in the forest were banned yesterday.
In the UK, club huts are now closed and Scottish Mountain Rescue has issued a statement urging people to stick to "familiar and safe areas".
We have now added notices of the European climbing bans to our UKC Logbooks.
What does the BMC recommend in the UK?
The BMC have posted this advice:
This is uncharted territory for all of us, and the advice we give to climbers, walkers and mountaineers will no doubt change over the coming days, weeks and even months. But if you're wondering whether to head outside, this is what we currently think:
- People need access to countryside for their health – both mental and physical.
- Follow the most current NHS advice regarding health and distancing. Currently Public Health England's advice is: "you can go for a walk outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others."
- Consider your means of travel and distance – close to home is best and, despite the environmental impact, it's better to be in personal cars than public transport at the moment.
- Stick to familiar areas and low-risk activities.
- Reduce your risk. Be very aware that medical and rescue services and facilities are going to be extremely stretched and overwhelmed. It would be socially irresponsible to be taking risks at this time that could place an additional burden on medical and emergency services.
- Do not assume that Mountain Rescue will be available. There is a real possibility of reduced or even no cover for rescue in some areas as this develops - including along the coast that depends on lifeboat and volunteer coastguards.