Covid-19: Is it still OK to go for a walk?23 Mar 2020
UPDATE: See this story for new restrictions announced March 30th (effective March 31)
What role will walking play during our battle to contain (and survive) the Coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic, and can we do so with our physical and mental health intact?
For the healthy (or asymptomatic), social distancing is now a necessary fact of life in Australia.* This means many popular physical activities such as visiting a gym or swimming pool, or playing a team sport, are out of bounds.
Recreational activities such as walking, cycling and jogging are still possible, provided people respect social distancing, currently defined as keeping at least 1.5 metres from others whenever possible, excluding people from your family or household (no one was harmed in the staging of the above photo!)
Indeed many medical experts are stressing the importance of exercise, particularly walking, in the fight against Covid-19. However we're all facing a barrage of information, often conflicting - so it's not surprising people feel confused - even about the once simple daily task or pleasure of taking a walk.
On Sunday night we asked Victoria Walks’ Facebook followers how they were handling their new reality and whether they had managed to take a quiet walk over the weekend. The response was overwhelming, with examples below showing many of us are continuing to find strength and solace in walking, especially in troubled times:
Lisa: 'I did both Saturday and Sunday. I went early in the morning. It took my mind off everything and made me feel as though I could face whatever gets thrown our way.'
Cath: 'Had a lovely walk around Blackburn Lake. Everyone observing social distancing, but still smiling and saying hello. Good to get out in nature and hear the birds.'
Deb: This weekend I hike Dromana to Cape Schanck Lighthouse and then on to Gunnamatta. Taking in the Two Bays hike and the Coastal Walk. It felt great to hike with friends for what might have been the last time in a while ...'
It is clear many people are adapting; seeking out quiet times or places to walk, or keeping the recommended 1.5m distance from those they pass. But politicians have also pointed to weekend crowds at Bondi Beach in Sydney as a worrying sign the social distancing message is not sinking in to everyone, and that stronger measures may soon be needed to curtail the spread of Covid-19 in Australia.
This weekend the Victorian government closed or restricted access to some popular public spaces including high-visitation national parks and walking trails. At Wilson’s Promontory camping and accommodation has been shut down at Tidal River ahead of the Easter school holidays and rangers are limiting the number of day visitor passes to reduce crowding on walk trails.
We can likely expect more spaces will be added to the list and closer to home, some Victoria Walks followers expressed concerns about the safety of walking in local parks.
'I walked yesterday, but picked a park often empty. Just so many not taking social distancing seriously. I felt... uncomfortable. Is it the right thing? The wrong thing? Some countries are blockading their parks to keep people out and the last thing I want to be is part of the problem... Like any virus, people with [Covid-19] are contagious before they have any symptoms.'
With the very real danger Covid-19 presents, it is vitally important people observe and respect social distancing if you do choose to walk. Don’t put your own health and wellbeing before the health of others who may be more vulnerable to the effects of this disease.
Walk early in the morning, or in the evening if you live in a densely populated area. Choose parks and paths that are quiet. Take your own water bottle rather than using public water fountains and wash your hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds after using public toilets. Keep at least 1.5m from those you pass.
But also importantly, wave or smile to those who you do pass. Ask after the health and wellbeing of your neighbours. Seek to help and cheer others in any way that you can. Let’s spatially isolate, not socially isolate.
For the time being Victoria Walks will continue to share ideas for places to walk and to remind Victorians of the benefits of doing so. Yet we’re also aware the ground may continue to shift beneath our feet.
We urge you to keep up-to-date with official information from:
- Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services
- Australian Government Department of Health
- Parks Victoria: List of closed parkks and beaches
- Ten reasons to walk more
* People who are ill or at heightened risk of being infected with Covid-19 because of overseas travel or exposure to someone who has tested postive, must self-isolate (not leave home). See the Victorian Department of Health Covid-19 page for more information on who should self-isolate and what this means.