Boris Johnson is under pressure to clarify details of a Sunday bike ride seven miles from his Downing Street residence after No 10 refused to say whether he was driven there.
Parkgoers spotted Johnson cycling in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park in Stratford, east London, along with his security detail, at about 2pm on Sunday.
A Downing Street source said the prime minister was exercising within the rules but would not give further details as to whether Johnson cycled from his Westminster residence or was transported there by car.
“The PM follows Covid-secure guidelines. It does not say in the regulations that driving somewhere to take exercise is a breach of the rules. That is not a comment on the PM’s case but the rules only say remain local,” the source said.
Official government guidance to reduce the spread of coronavirus says “you should not travel outside your local area” while exercising. Johnson’s spokesperson was unable to provide any information on the record but a No 10 source said there was no suggestion his travel had broken any rules, without giving details.
Johnson has been a keen cyclist for years and goes jogging regularly near his home in Westminster. Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith in London, said: “Once again it is do as I say not as I do from the prime minister. London has some of the highest infection rates in the country. Boris Johnson should be leading by example.”
Asked at Monday’s Downing Street press conference whether travelling seven miles for a cycle ride was within the rules, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is OK to go if you went for a long walk and ended up seven miles from home, that is OK, but you should stay local. It is OK to go for a long walk or a cycle ride or to exercise but stay local.”
News of Johnson’s Sunday excursion emerged in the Evening Standard days after two women were fined £200 by police for driving five miles from their home to meet for a walk at a reservoir, although the fines were rescinded on Monday following criticism.
Derbyshire police said it had issued fixed penalty notices to Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore because driving to a location to exercise “is clearly not in the spirit of the national effort to reduce our travel, reduce the possible spread of the disease and reduce the number of deaths”.
On Monday, the force’s chief constable, Rachel Swann, said: “Two fixed penalty notices that were handed to two women … have been withdrawn and we have notified the women directly, apologising for any concern caused.
“I support the fact that the officers were trying to encourage people to stay local to prevent the spread of the virus. This is a responsibility for all of us.”
She added: “We have been working hard to understand the ever-changing guidance and legislation and to communicate this to our officers in a way that makes it clear what is the right course of action to take.”
The government is understood to be reviewing guidelines on exercise, which could include limits on the distances people are allowed to travel as well as whether to restrict exercise within households when current rules allow exercise with one other person outdoors.
Speaking on Monday, Johnson urged the public to respect coronavirus regulations when out grocery shopping and buying takeaway coffee, saying people needed to “do the right thing” and adhere to social distancing.
“We need to enforce the rules in supermarkets. When people are getting takeaway drinks, in cafes, then they need to avoid spreading the disease there, avoid mingling too much,” he said.
Johnson said Britain was in “a race against time” to distribute vaccines as he urged against any complacency.
“We can all see the threat that our NHS faces, the pressure it’s under, the demand in intensive care units, the pressure on ventilated beds, even the shortage of oxygen in some places,” he said on a visit to a vaccination centre in Bristol, in southwest England.
“This is a very perilous moment. The worst thing now for us is to allow success in rolling out a vaccine programme to breed any kind of complacency about the state of the pandemic.”