LONDON (AP) — The sound of a crisply struck golf ball could be heard in England for the first time in nearly two months as courses reopened Wednesday as part of some modest easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
People in England are allowed to exercise more than once a day and with one person from outside their household, provided they remain two meters (around 6.5 feet) apart. Golf courses, outdoor tennis and basketball courts can reopen, and swimming is once again allowed in lakes, rivers and the sea. And those who want to go fishing can do so, too.
As well as the easing of some sporting restrictions, stores selling gardening supplies can reopen, while potential house buyers or renters can once again visit properties in person. And those people who can’t work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, are being encouraged to return to their place of work if they can do so safely.
The lifting of some restrictions, first announced by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, applies only in England. The semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are going more slowly and sticking with the “Stay Home” message.
The four parts of the U.K. have moved as one during the lockdown, which has been in place since March 23, but are starting to take different approaches during the easing phase.
Johnson justified the modest easing on the grounds that Britain has passed the peak of the outbreak. Over a seven-day rolling average, the U.K.’s daily death toll has fallen over the past month. The U.K. has officially recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths in Europe, more than 32,000, a toll second only to the United States.
Critics of the U.K. government say the changes to the lockdown, spelled out in a 50-page document, are confusing and potentially dangerous — especially when it comes to returning to work. The government says people should try to return to workplaces if they can’t work from home, but should avoid using public transit if possible.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government would have to take steps if too many people packed onto buses and subways.
“We are asking people to be very sensible and not flood back to public transport,” he told Sky News. “Even with all the trains and buses back to running when they are, there will not be enough space.”
London’s Waterloo Station appeared to remain quiet during rush-hour on Wednesday morning, with only around 20 people on the main concourse at any one time.
The changes in the guidelines have also caused some confusion beyond work-related issues, as people can’t visit their relatives or friends at their homes while still being able to put in a bid to buy a home.
Fines for those who break the rules have been increased as part of a carrot-and-stick approach designed to ensure that people operate within the guidelines.
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would “continue to use common sense and discretion” in policing the new rules.
“The efforts of the public mean police officers have rarely had to enforce the government regulations so far,” he said. “I am confident the vast majority will continue to do their bit and follow guidance in this next stage.”