Outdoor sports and socialising resume as England’s lockdown eases

David Hughes, PA Political Editor
·5-min read

People across England have begun taking advantage of the relaxation of lockdown measures as outdoor gatherings and sport events resumed.

Groups of up to six, or two households, can socialise in parks and gardens once more, while outdoor sports facilities can reopen after the stay-at-home order ended on Monday.

A group of golfers greeted the easing of coronavirus restrictions by hitting the fairways at just after midnight.

Seven teams used glow-in-the-dark balls and floodlit greens at the Morley Hayes Golf Club, near Derby, with their opening drives coming at 12.01am.

Swimmers returned to outdoor pools and those taking advantage of the relaxation in the lockdown will enjoy balmy weather across parts of England, with temperatures in parts of south-east England rising to 24C by Tuesday.

Glenn Earlam, chief executive of gym chain David Lloyd, which reopened outdoor facilities at 79 of its clubs in England, said people were “just desperate to get out of their houses and go and do something different”.

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He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there were “big marquees outside the clubs in the grounds and the sides of those marquees will be open to let the air come through, but you’ll be covered in case it chucks it down with rain”.

English Heritage was also reopening some of its outdoor spaces include the grounds of Dover Castle in Kent, the Battle of Hastings site in East Sussex, Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire, and the Osborne House site on the Isle of Wight.

After months of being told to stay at home, she said people were “desperate to get back to their local sites after what has been a very long winter for many and get that lift that they need from visiting some spectacular locations”.

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Boris Johnson stressed that “we must remain cautious, with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout” as the latest step on his road map out of lockdown was reached.

“Despite today’s easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules, remember hands, face, space, and come forward for a vaccine when called,” the Prime Minister added.

Mr Johnson, who will hold a press conference later on Monday, said that as vaccines were rolled out “it’s vital that we don’t overdo it and risk all the progress we’ve made”.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Sage advisory panel and former chief scientific adviser, said that there is “good reason to be cautious” as restrictions are eased, with concerns about mounting cases on the continent.

He told Times Radio: “Just across the Channel we are seeing many European countries well into a third wave of infection.

“The average number of cases per day is about 5,000 in the UK – and is rather persistently stuck there at the moment – in France the average number of cases is nearly 37,000 cases a day.

“The risk of the moment is that the South African variant becomes more prevalent, as it is in some parts of Europe.”

Runners in Rothwell
People taking part in a Boot Camp exercise class in Springhead Park, Rothwell, Leeds (Danny Lawson/PA)

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said the easing of measures amounted to “cautious baby steps” out of lockdown and warned the police would intervene if people breached the rules.

He told Sky News: “The vast majority of people absolutely stick to the rules and actually there’s a fair bit of self-policing that goes on as well.

“But indeed if there are breaches, then the police can intervene and fine and they’ll continue to do so where that’s the case, but the message very clearly and hence the new message today actually is making sure that it’s very much about outdoors and open space.”

Football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools, golf courses and sailing clubs are now free to reopen after months of being shuttered.

Easing the lockdown in England
(PA Graphics)

Organised team sports can also resume outdoors, meaning grassroots competitions can take place ahead of the Easter break without the need for social distancing.

Restrictions were eased as official figures showed more than 30 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, accounting for about 57% of all adults.

A new slogan was also unveiled to stress the importance of ventilation in reducing the spread of the virus: “Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air.”

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A public information campaign warns against the dangers of gathering indoors, with a psychologist giving advice on how to deal with friends and family who suggest breaking the rules, saying people may need to be “firm” and give “gentle reminders” about distancing.

In Wales, the “stay local” order ended on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation.

The stay home order in Scotland is to end on Friday, while in Northern Ireland up to six people, or two households, will be able to meet outdoors from Thursday.

It is the second major easing of England’s lockdown imposed in early January, with schools having been reopened to all pupils on March 8.

While greater outdoor freedoms are now permitted, the Government is still advising people to work from home where possible and minimise the number of journeys they take.

The next step in the road map to easing England’s lockdown is April 12, which is earmarked for non-essential shops to reopen and for outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants.