Amid a backlash to the crowds seen swamping coastal and remote rural communities at the weekend, calls to avoid unnecessary travel and social gatherings in order to limit the spread of Coronavirus are becoming increasingly urgent - and that very much includes walkers and climbers, who are being urged to stay local.
In effect this means no more climbing or hillwalking.
What constitutes 'local' has yet to be officially defined in the UK, though consensus seems to be coalescing around the idea that any distance requiring public transport or a car is too far. In France, where travel restrictions are in a more advanced state than the UK, people are allowed out for exercise only within a small distance of their home. Similarly stringent restrictions in the UK seem increasingly likely, and many would argue they are seriously overdue.
As of 23 March Public Health England's guidelines on social distancing simply state that: "You can [...] go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others."
However, recent reports of a mass exodus to the coast, parks and National Parks have led to major concern about increased contagion, the spread of the virus around the country, and the potential pressure on rural services ill equipped to cope with more people.
"Clearly getting outdoors for exercise and to maintain mental well being is very important during these strange and unprecedented times, but the BMC is strongly advising to keep this local and avoid all unnecessary travel" sais Rob Dyer, BMC Access & Conservation Officer.
"In this context, when we say local, we mean avoiding climbing and hillwalking, sticking to low risk activities starting from your front door and not using any other means of transport to get to the start of your activity other than by walking. It goes without saying that any activity outdoors should always follow expert guidelines and be done at least 2m from other people."
Today (23 March) a group of 35 national outdoor activity, tourism, nature, health and rescue organisations issued a joint statement to help the public exercise safely outside:
"In this time of national crisis, when almost all forms of indoor entertainment and social gatherings are severely restricted, a balance can be struck. As the Prime Minister outlined, we must preserve the health of the vulnerable and restrict the spread of COVID-19, while doing all that we can to maintain the mental, social and physical health of the nation. We endorse this approach and encourage the public to strictly follow social distancing guidance while exercising outside, close to home.
"A nation in lockdown could lead to enhanced anxiety, depression, social unrest, mental and physical ill health, and social poverty. In contrast, carefully managed local exercise, inside or outside, will provide welcome active release for individuals and families feeling trapped. Getting into the outdoors sensibly very close to our own homes now, will make it easier for all of us to sustain other official guidelines and preserve the health of the vulnerable in the longer term.
"Fully respecting the need for the ill and vulnerable to remain self-isolated, for those healthy individuals and families with no symptoms, getting active outside remains one of the very few tools left to fight the social impact of this disease.
"We 35 national outdoor organisations advocate the following:
- Enjoy active outdoor recreation in your local area, while practicing good social distancing at all times
- Do not travel to popular tourist areas and reduce the risk of groups gathering in one place
- Stay close to home – consider low risk, familiar activities in local areas, such as a local walk or run.
- Avoid public transport and social gatherings – keep active by travelling on foot or bike
- Outdoor play and learning opportunities that reflect government guidelines are available to children, including those of key workers attending school.
"To the extent areas of the outdoors remain open, if you can get outside close to home while taking sensible precautions, then please do so. Now, possibly more than ever, staying active is vital to everyone's physical and mental wellbeing."
The signatory organisations include the BMC, Ramblers, Mountain Training, the National Trust, Forestry England, YHA, the Open Spaces Society and Mountaineering Scotland.
Separately the Ramblers are advising walkers to avoid all non-essential travel, to follow official advice and to stay local during the coronavirus outbreak.
"At the time of writing, official Government advice states that, apart from people who are in households with symptoms or who have pre-existing health conditions that put them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, going for a walk independently can continue and is an excellent way to maintain health and wellbeing - provided walkers stay more than two metres from others.
However, they stress the need for everyone to limit activity to their local area.
"Despite Government advice to avoid unnecessary travel, we're increasingly hearing from local communities who are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of people travelling long distances to walk and 'self-isolate' in more remote areas of the country.
"We are therefore urging walkers everywhere to avoid all non-essential travel and to stay local.
"For anyone who is walking in more remote areas that are local to them, we continue to ask them to stay well within their limits, to avoid any need to call on mountain rescue or other emergency services."
We at UKClimbing have echoed this sentiment, and we believe that as a crisis measure all climbing should now cease:
Meanwhile, facilities in the hills are steadily closing. Today (23 March) the Mountain Bothies Association issued a short statement:
"In line with Government and medical advice about social distancing, all MBA maintained bothies are closed to visitors until further notice. The Association has also cancelled all meetings and work parties."
The Scottish Youth Hostels Association has announced the immediate closure of all 33 Youth Hostels in its network across the country, until further notice.
Margo Paterson, Chief Executive of Hostelling Scotland, said:
"It is with great sadness that we have had to temporarily close our Youth Hostel network until further notice. However, the health, safety and wellbeing of our people and guests along with protecting the communities in which we all live and work is our utmost priority at this time.
"We really appreciate the hard work being carried out by all healthcare workers and those on the front line, looking after people and keeping us safe. Although our hostels are closing, we shall be talking with the NHS and other public services to see how best our hostels can support essential services."