Can I go for a walk during a global pandemic?
TORONTO -- Going for a walk is widely known to reduce stress and relieve anxiety – both of which are in great supply during any global pandemic. As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across Canada and the globe, getting fresh air and spending time in nature can be a good way to relax and stay sane.
But with government officials recommending Canadians to stay indoors and practise physical distancing, many are left wondering: is it permissible to go for a walk during the coronavirus outbreak?
The answer, Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti told CTVNews.ca via telephone on March 25, is "yes and no."
As with so many things during the COVID-19 pandemic, it all comes down to individual situations. Anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus, is showing possible symptoms of it, or has been outside Canada in the past 14 days is not allowed to leave their house even to take a walk, according to Public Health Agency of Canada guidance.
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Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., says that even those who are not in full self-isolation mode should onlygo for a walk with others from their household, stay close to home and keep a distance of two metres from anyone they encounter.
“This minimizes exposure to the virus,” he said. “You see everyone going for a walk in downtown Toronto and it defeats the purpose [of physical distancing].”
Some provinces go beyond telling travellers and symptomatic individuals to self-isolate. Ontario recently updated its guidelines to include all residents over the age of 70 and everyone who is immunocompromised, telling them to only leave their homes for essential reasons.
Authorities in Nova Scotia say a walk around the neighbourhood is OK for asymptomatic non-travellers, but venturing into parks or public spaces is not recommended.
Penalties for being convicted of violating public health orders vary from province to province but can include fines and jail time. Returning travellers who are not self-isolating have already been fined in some Canadian jurisdictions, and two people in Nova Scotia were dinged $1,000 apiece for refusing to stay two metres apart in public.
Chakrabarti said he goes on walks with his wife and two daughters, but they only go as far as up and down the street.
“It’s not that the walk is inherently bad, it’s the potential for everybody to be doing it at the same time that’s the problem,” he said. “The main goal is to be distanced from people not in your household.”
NOT EVERYONE IS LISTENING
In a media briefing in mid-March, the World Health Organization offered advice on how to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, the institution recommended exercise – at least 30 minutes a day for adults, and one hour a day for children.
Suggestions for physical activity include walking or running at a safe distance from others, as long as government guidelines allow for it. If they don’t, the organization recommends indoor exercise in the form of dancing, yoga, and walking up and down the stairs.
Before health officials started issuing stricter guidelines and enforcements, some Canadians were ignoring the calls for physical distancing.
Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach, for example, was packed with visitors, despite the declaration of a state of emergency by the government of British Columbia. Meanwhile in Toronto, although streets were notably empty, one Facebook user captured this photo of a boardwalk crowded with visitors.
Although there had been hope that new regulations and a harsher tone would deter this sort of behaviour, reports of packed public spaces continue to flood in – including a group of dozens of unauthorized golfers in London, Ont. and a high-profile engagement party in Montreal.
University of Toronto infectious diseases specialist Dr. JeffKwong said he understands why the government is considering tougher policies on physical separation.
“The principle is that we want to maintain physical distance,” he said. “But in practice, people are not following government recommendations.
“People who are saying not to go outside, this might be a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said. “But we may need to go that way if we keep seeing groups of people congregating outside.”
With files from CTVNews.ca's Ryan Flanagan