Downing Street can’t say whether you’re allowed to sit on a bench

Police presence before a proposed anti-lockdown protest in Clapham Common, London.
Police presence before a proposed anti-lockdown protest in Clapham Common, London.

Downing Street has been unable to say whether sitting on a park bench during England’s coronavirus lockdown is allowed.

As reports emerge that ministers are considering tighter restrictions, and amid concern over how police have enforced the rules, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman failed to say whether sitting on a bench is a breach of COVID laws.

Recently, police have fined two women who drove separately to meet up for a walk and the Metropolitan Police promised to issue fixed-penalty notices to rule-breakers quicker.

Asked if it would be legal for a single person to sit on a park bench, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “Let me take that one away and come back to you, on the… park bench question.”

Read more: What you can and can’t do under new rules for England

Lockdown rules for England say people should only leave their homes for essential reasons, like shopping for necessities, exercise, or going to work if they can’t do so from home.

Social visits are not allowed but it is possible to exercise with someone who doesn’t live with you, though travel outside the local area is discouraged.

Watch: What are England’s lockdown rules?

As journalists sought further clarity on the rules, the spokesman said cafes and restaurants can provide takeaways.

But when pressed on whether a person can sit on a bench and drink a coffee, the spokesman said: “We have set out clearly the rules.

“We have been clear in the exemption for the stay-at-home rule: we are permitting one person to meet another person for exercise.”

Earlier in January, Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, both 27, were fined £200 for meeting up for a walk at a reservoir, despite living just 10 minutes away.

Home secretary Priti Patel has backed strong enforcement of rules, though Derbyshire Police said it will review its lockdown fines after the women went public about what happened.

The Met has also promised tougher enforcement, saying it will no longer tolerate people who refuse to wear masks without good reason.

Watch: What is long COVID?