Ministers have prompted confusion over England’s new lockdown rules with Michael Gove apologising for incorrectly indicating tennis and golf could be played, as cabinet colleague Robert Jenrick apparently wrongly suggested a family would be allowed to meet a friend for a walk outside.
Amid uncertainty over the lockdown coming into effect on Thursday, Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, issued an apology for signalling that singles tennis and golf in pairs could still go ahead.
It came as Jenrick, the communities secretary, confirmed that a family could go for a walk with a friend – despite there being a two-person limit on people meeting outdoors when outside of households or support bubbles.
The government’s own website detailing the restrictions states that people can exercise or visit an outdoor space “when on your own, with one person from another household”, unless an exemption applies.
During a question-and-answer session with constituents on Monday, Gove said: “You’ll probably be able to play singles tennis at the moment. The guidance that we have is that if people are appropriately socially distanced they can take exercise with one other person … We are looking at allowing people to play on golf courses with one other appropriately distanced [person].”
But on Tuesday morning Gove reversed, tweeting: “My apologies, I got this wrong,” and sharing a link to guidance explaining that indoor and outdoor leisure facilities including swimming pools, golf courses and riding centres would all be forced to close from Thursday.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, Jenrick confirmed golf and tennis would not be allowed under the new rules. “There are some differences to the national measures that we had in March and April which will benefit people. For example, you are able to do unlimited outdoor exercise during this period, so we’re not going back to the time where there was only, you know, one walk a day for a limited period.
“You can go out with your own household, or with your own household plus one other person and walk the dog, go for a run, go for a walk around the town or city where you live or to the countryside...”
Pressed to clarify his comments, host Louise Minchin said: “I think I heard you say that outside you can be one household, plus one other person, is that what you meant and is that right?”
Jenrick replied: “Yes, that’s right.”
Suggesting a scenario that would be allowed, Minchin said: “So a family could go for a walk, with for example, a friend.”
Jenrick confirmed they could, saying “yes”. Pressed again by Minchin who asked whether it was correct it would apply to four people and one person, Jenrick appeared to contradict himself: “Yes, so you can go out in your own household, or with one other person.”
The government’s website sets out the new rules warning people must not leave their home except for specific circumstances, including “to exercise outdoors or visit an outdoor public place - with the people you live with, with your support bubble or, when on your own, with one person from another household (children under school age, as well as those dependent on round-the-clock care, such as those with severe disabilities, who are with their parents will not count towards the limit on two people meeting outside)“.
Hopes of a reprieve for grassroots sport during a second national lockdown were dashed by Boris Johnson on Monday. While elite sports have been given the go-ahead to continue, community sports and facilities will be forced to close.
Asked in the Commons on Monday whether golf courses would be exempted from the new restrictions, the prime minister said: “I must apologise to my honourable friend for not being able to offer the house a huge list of exemptions to the rules we’ve set out. Because once you unpick at one thing alas the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised.
“That’s why I want everyone to work together for the next four weeks to get the R rate under control so that we can open things up again in time for December.”