London has begun to shut its public parks after thousands of people flaunted coronavirus social distancing rules at the weekend.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council has become the first local authority in the UK to close all of its parks after they were ‘full of people’ on Saturday and Sunday.
Meanwhile, The Royal Parks which runs numerous public spaces in the capital including Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Richmond Park has threatened to shut all of its gates unless people follow social distancing guidelines.
The government has advised against all non-essential travel and social contact with those who do go outside for exercise told to stay at least two metres away from other people.
Ministers have put in place the guidance in a desperate bid to slow the spread of the deadly disease but there are growing fears some people are failing to take the outbreak seriously enough as they continue to meet up in groups and stand too close to each other.
The start of the parks shutdown came as the government updated domestic travel advice to tell people not to visit second homes, holiday homes, campsites or caravan parks.
Ministers said people should not visit those place either for self-isolation or for a holiday because doing so would place unnecessary strain on rural communities.
The continued failure of some people to adhere to the government’s social distancing and travel guidance means Boris Johnson is now considering whether or not to impose more draconian measures which could see rules being legally enforced.
Boris Johnson said yesterday the government could toughen social distancing rules if people refuse to comply as ministers urged people not to visit second homes, holiday homes or campsites
Richmond Park in London was busier than usual on Sunday as hundreds of dog walkers, cyclists, joggers and drivers visited the public space in the west of the capital
The government has urged people to stay at least two metres away from others. Richmond Park is pictured on Sunday
The government issued update domestic travel advice after a weekend which saw people flaunt the advice telling them to stay at home. Pictured is a packed Snowdon in Wales on Saturday
The weekend saw numerous examples of crowds of people visiting tourist hot spots, parks and markets across the country.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council said it was acting to close all of its parks in the west of London in order to observe the government’s social distancing guidance but insisted the decision will be kept under review.
Councillor Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, said: ‘Our parks have been full of people this weekend with a significant proportion ignoring government guidelines on social distancing.
‘This raises the serious likelihood of cross-infection. By closing our parks, we are putting the safety of all our residents first.’
The Royal Parks said in a statement that its public spaces will remain open because they are ‘vitally important at this time’ because of the physical and mental health benefits they can provide.
But it made clear that if people fail to follow the rules then the parks will shut.
It told users social distancing is ‘absolutely crucial’ as it also announced all cafes and kiosks would close in a bid to prevent people congregating in one area while roads would also be shut in some parks.
‘We have also made the decision, based on police advice, to start closing our roads to traffic in the outer parks (Richmond, Bushy and Greenwich Parks),’ the organisation said.
‘Roads will remain open in the inner parks (Hyde, Regent’s, St James’s Parks), but all designated car parks are now only open for key workers with a permit. All parks remain open to cyclists.
‘We will keep this situation under constant review. If people do not follow social distancing guidelines, we will have no choice but to consider closing the parks.’
It came as updated cross-government UK travel advice issued last night told people not to visit holiday homes or campsites and urged everyone not to travel ‘unless it is essential’ in order to help stem the spread of coronavirus.
The advice warns of the potential impact second home owners or holiday home owners could have on vital rural services if they leave their primary residence and head for the countryside.
It states: ‘This guidance is for people planning to visit second homes or holiday premises during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
‘Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays.
‘People should remain in their primary residence. Not taking these steps puts additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk.’
The government has already advised against ‘all but essential international travel’ as countries around the world respond to the crisis.
As of yesterday there were 5,683 identified cases of coronavirus in the UK and the death toll stands at 281.
Mr Johnson yesterday delivered a warning to the UK that unless everybody takes the government’s social distancing guidance seriously ministers will be forced to go further.
Speaking at his daily coronavirus press conference in 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: ‘You’ve got to observe social distancing.
‘If people can’t do that, won’t do that, don’t do that, we will of course have to bring in tougher measures.’
He added: ‘I don’t think you need to use your imagination very much to see where we might have to go, and we will think about this very, very actively in the next 24 hours.’
The potential toughening of the measures could involve the UK following the lead of France, Spain and Italy where people are only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons. Those who refuse to comply are hit with fines.
The government could also decide to unilaterally close all of the UK’s parks.
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