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UK Prime Minister Johnson criticised over bike ride seven miles from home

Downing Street on Tuesday defended UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's cycle ride in east London over the weekend, around seven miles away from his central London office-cum-residence, and insisted he had not breached the COVID-19 lockdown rules which allow for one daily form of exercise but require people to stay local.

Boris Johnson | Coronavirus | UK

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Boris Johnson
On Sunday, Johnson was spotted riding his bike, along with his security officers Photo: Reuters/file

Downing Street on Tuesday defended Prime Minister Boris Johnson's cycle ride in east London over the weekend, around seven miles away from his central London office-cum-residence, and insisted he had not breached the COVID-19 lockdown rules which allow for one daily form of exercise but require people to stay local.

Scotland Yard Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, backed up the journey as not being in breach of the rules even as she warned that her officers will be getting tougher on enforcing the rules as the continues to deal with a massive surge in infection rates.

The Prime Minister's spokesperson said any suggestion that Johnson had broken the rules after being spotted on his bike near the Olympic Park on Sunday was "wrong and the Met Police chief confirmed it was not against the law.

"From your front door and come back to your front door That's my view of local," she told the BBC.

Cressida Dick, Britain's senior-most police official, however agreed that a clearer description of what staying local actually means in distance terms would be beneficial.

That's certainly something the government could consider. It would depend how it's done as with all these things. Anything that brings greater clarity for officers and the public in general will be a good thing, she said.

Writing in The Times' newspaper on Tuesday, she appealed to the public to follow the strict stay-at-home guidelines as the faces a new and urgent phase in our struggle against this terrible virus.

It is preposterous to me that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus. We have been clear that those who breach COVID-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines, she writes.

We will still be engaging, explaining and encouraging but those who break the rules or refuse to comply where they should without good reason will find officers moving much more quickly to enforcement action, she said.

The Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, also echoed her views and urged people to follow the government guidance and leave their homes only for the limited purposes of essential needs or one form of outdoor exercise within their local areas.

"Now local is, obviously, open to interpretation, but people broadly know what local means. If you can get there under your own steam and you are not interacting with somebody... then that seems perfectly reasonable to me," he said.

The issue of travelling for exercise was highlighted at the weekend after police in Derbyshire fined two women 200 pounds after they drove five miles from home to take a walk a penalty that was later dropped after widespread social media coverage over whether the two women had really broken the law.

Each devolved region of the United Kingdom sets its own precise levels of lockdown rules and under the government advice for England, people can leave home to exercise as long as it is limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area."

It adds: "Stay local means stay in the village, town, or part of the city where you live."

In Scotland, the advice is that exercise can be taken if it "starts and finishes at the same place, which can be up to five miles from the boundary of your local authority area".

In Wales, exercise must start from and finish at home and there no limits on distance travelled, although the advice is that "the nearer you stay to your home, the better".

And, people in Northern Ireland are advised not to go more than 10 miles from home when exercising.

The debate around tougher action against lockdown breaches, which are punishable by fines ranging between 200 pounds and 10,000 pounds, has been intensifying as a further 529 people died from on Monday, taking the country's death toll to 81,960.

According to official data, there are more than 32,200 people in hospital in the UK with as health experts warned that the country was currently in the worst phase of the pandemic.

It comes as the government tabled a major vaccination programme to immunise tens of millions of people by March-April at over 2,700 vaccination sites across the UK.

The National Health Service (NHS) says while over 2 million people have already received the first of two jabs, it is also mobilising a workforce of over 80,000 health professionals to help in the delivery of the programme across the different vaccination sites where the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs will be administered to the most vulnerable categories.

The government has committed to offer the first vaccine dose to all those in the top priority groups recommended by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) by February 15.

With these groups accounting for 88 per cent of COVID-19 fatalities, the move is aimed at preventing thousands of deaths once their immunity develops within 14 days of the first jab.

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First Published: Wed, January 13 2021. 01:39 IST