There were days, in the not too distant past, when we could have the freedom to go and explore anywhere (within socially acceptable boundaries though), and nobody could deter our desire to go out. It was one of those beautiful days when it happened.
One sunny Sunday, Mar. 22, a day before the nationwide lockdown in the UK, I knew that a few of my friends were planning to go to the park to take a walk. I did not hesitate to join the group. With a backdrop of European countries going into lockdown, we could see our immediate future here in the UK.
I thought that it would be my last chance of doing outdoor activities. I also believed that if I complied with the advice of the government, medical and global health experts, I would not get involved in any social disruption.
As experts advised, instead of using a taxi, I decided to go to the park (Endcliffe Park) on foot to avoid being exposed to the virus in a closed space. While enjoying mutual social distancing, I walked for 40 minutes (that day, I walked almost 5 hours) to get to the park. Once I arrived, I immediately found lots of people. My friends and I tried to keep our distance from others, but it was not easy.
As everyone knows now, many people flocked to the parks across the UK on the day. I indeed became one of those ‘irresponsible’ (according to the Prime Minister) and ‘selfish’ (according to BBC) people. Many media outlets viewed the people at the park as careless, senseless, irrational, and even selfish.
Next day in the daily media briefing, Boris Johnson blamed people and declared a nationwide lockdown (Of course, I do not believe that crowded parks a day before was a cause of the lockdown, rather it may already have been planned to be implemented).
Of course, when I came across a bunch of people at the park, I should have immediately turned my back and come back home (walking 40 minutes again) straight away. But I did not do so and took a walk in the park. So, do I deserve to be blamed?
Were the people who came to the parks, irrational and irresponsible? Should we, the public, take all the blame for this unpleasant event?
I believe that people acted rationally, although they failed to anticipate what their decision to go to the park may have led to. My view is that we just wanted to maintain our physical and mental wellbeing by having a bit of walking in the green.
People did not have much choice, Johnson recommended all the pubs, bars, theatres to close their business temporarily (briefing March 20th). Even one of my friends, a tireless football and pub lover, took a walk in the park with us.
Perhaps, people may have just followed the advice of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England? In the briefing on March 20th, the officer advised that people are allowed to go outside to do outdoor exercises to maintain their health. Yes, I know, she also emphasised that keeping social distancing is very important while doing outdoor activities. However, it was unlikely that people could expect they could not keep two meters from others in the park. It was impossible to keep our distance unless we jumped into the water or ran away whenever we found people near us, it would have meant endless running.
I would rather put the blame on central and local government. Jonson’s cabinet should have predicted that people, unable to go to the pubs, stadiums (everyone knows what that means to Brits!) and gyms, would choose to come to the park. Besides, it was pretty obvious that people could flock together in the park on a sunny weekend. Johnson also should have learnt from France (the French government banned people going to social and entertaining centres and a huge amount of people headed to the seashores). In addition, I was disappointed to see no local government presence. They could have prevented the crowds of people in the parks by placing signs or introducing a reservation system to restrict the number of people.
So, no shame? Yes, I regret my decision on that Sunday, even now when a few weeks have passed, but I would also like to defend the behaviour of the people in the parks. People did not act entirely irresponsibly, but rather they tried to comply with the government’s advice; but the central and local governments hindered many people’s efforts to keep social distance…. (I still feel ashamed)