diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 05, 2020

Lockdown 2 is not the same as Lockdown 1. Schools are open, the weather's worse and the rules on travel are subtly different.

But do you know what the rules on travel actually are? I ask because they keep changing, indeed they've been updated twice since the weekend.

Here's what the travel guidance said on Saturday after the Prime Minister's announcement.

The key message was to avoid "non-essential travel", which is much the same message as in the spring. The definition of essential travel was then spelled out for those whose common sense failed to match expectations.

But only non-essential travel by private and public transport was specifically restricted. Essential shopping wasn't defined. Exercise wasn't mentioned. And although we were being asked to avoid all non-essential travel, the list of reasons provided was preceded by "includes, but is not limited to". On the surface it seemed over-restrictive, but in reality it was anything but.

There was also a request to "reduce the number of journeys you make", without making it clear precisely what a journey was or over what period the reduction should be made. Did they mean journeys by private and public transport only, and making fewer than before, or did they mean leaving the house less often by whatever means?

Anyway forget that because they changed it. Here's what the travel guidance said on Sunday after a significant tweak.

The word 'essential' had entirely vanished. The concept of a local area had appeared. Travel to any open venue was now permitted. And exercise was now fine so long as you only needed a short journey to get there. But by rewording the text to clarify certain aspects of the guidance, further ambiguities had been introduced.

For a start, what precisely was a 'local area'? Was it administratively-based, for example a county or a borough, because that can be really problematic for anyone living on the border. Was it perhaps distance-related, as when Wales introduced a requirement earlier this year to stay within five miles of home. Or was this a good old woolly compromise, hinting that long jaunts across country weren't acceptable whereas a brief drive across town was fine. In a country as geographically varied as England something vague was probably the way to go.

Distance reared its awkward head again in relation to exercise, where this was now only OK if it required a 'short journey'. Was this about keeping cycle jaunts and walking trips down to a reasonable length rather than spending several hours outdoors? Or was it recognition that you might have to use transport to reach a park or recreational space and so to go to a local one rather than driving miles across country?

Anyway forget that because they changed it again. Here's what the travel guidance said yesterday after a significant tweak.

'Local areas' and 'short journeys' have now vanished, removing any ambiguity over what those phrases actually meant. But the opening line is now much more hard-hitting, suggesting "you cannot travel within the UK"! It's OK, an extended list of sensible exceptions follows, but the overarching tone seems a lot more restrictive than before.

Travel for work is fine if you absolutely have to. Travel for education, health or care is fine, as is jetting off to see the rest of your bubble. Travel for buying any goods or services is now explicitly OK, just so long as the premises are open...

...and travel for exercise has been significantly altered. Exercise now should take place 'locally wherever possible', which revisits the thorny definition of localness and also opens up the possibility of exercising elsewhere. But does 'wherever possible' mean you shouldn't go to your second nearest park, only the closest to home, or is it more about stopping people driving to distant woodland or the seaside for no good reason?

It's worth pointing out that the underlying legislation, published on Tuesday, hasn't changed. It's especially worth pointing out that this legislation doesn't list any travel restrictions whatsoever - everything is framed according to whether or not you have an acceptable reason to leave your home. All these supposed travel restrictions are in fact nothing more than guidance. The police should only be interested in where you're going and why, not how far you've come.

This lockdown travel guidance is somewhat vague, I bet, because we're all of us in very different circumstances. A family in the Lake District needs to read it and find relevance to their own situation, as does a student in Nottingham or a pensioner in Wembley. We all have to be persuaded to do the right thing, even when that right thing isn't tightly defined in law.

Anyway don't get too hung up on the fine detail because you can bet only a tiny proportion of the population have read it. More importantly the rules will probably have changed again by next week, as yet another attempt to make things clearer only serves to muddy the waters. Best stay at home.

Friday update: It's changed again. "If you live in England, you must stay at home and avoid travel in the UK or overseas, unless..."

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