Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - overview of public engagement

This report outlines the themes emerging from a rapid analysis of the public engagement exercise on our approach to decision making with regard to changes to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown arrangements.

5. Future changes to advice about staying at home


Ideas relating to future changes to advice about staying at home drew much support and were consistently in the top-rated ideas across the platform. Participation in outdoor activities featured strongly in response to the question on what changes could be made to improve quality of life during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) response. There was also discussion about how greater freedoms can be safely allowed. Discussion centred on:

  • Allowing socially distanced sport
  • Use of parks and outdoor spaces
  • Travel
  • Face masks
  • Reopening garden centres
  • Reopening places of worship
  • Allowing travel to second homes

Allowing socially distanced outdoor sports[8]

Many respondents supported increased access to outdoor locations and activities, particularly activities that could be easily conducted while maintaining social distancing. The mental and physical health benefits of outdoor exercise was a common theme across these discussions.

There was strong support for allowing outdoor recreational activities like hillwalking, climbing, fishing and kayaking. However, a concern was raised about these activities putting pressure on rescue services, particularly if more inexperienced people engage in them as there are fewer options for leisure activities. There was also a concern about car parks becoming overcrowded at popular destinations and suggestions of managing this through issuing permits - the revenue from which could support local economies.

The topic of golf received high levels of engagement and support in particular, with respondents highlighting that this involved limited physical contact and that many clubs had implemented hygiene guidelines prior to lockdown that would minimise the risk of transmission.[9] Similar arguments were made in support of tennis and bowls which also received good engagement. Some respondents also highlighted the economic impact on smaller clubs and rural economies.

However, a smaller number of respondents noted that golf courses have been repurposed by the public during lockdown for exercising (e.g. walking, running). This was a source of frustration for many respondents in favour of re-opening golf courses, while for several others, this was an issue of equality of access and these respondents felt that reopening golf courses would benefit far fewer people.

"Keep the courses closed as more use to walkers than golfers."

In a similar vein, some respondents felt that reopening golf courses and tennis courts would benefit those of higher incomes who were more likely to live in houses with access to gardens already, therefore measures targeting people living in flats and from lower income backgrounds should be given higher priority. However, it should be noted that other respondents disagreed with the assertion that golf and tennis were elite sports and instead posited that people of all backgrounds were represented within these sports.

A small number of respondents were concerned about the age demographics for sports such as golf and bowls where older, more 'at-risk' people may be overrepresented.

There was also commentary around how cyclists and runners could be persuaded to be more considerate of pedestrians, and how all pavement users can be encouraged to adhere to two-metre physical distancing.

It was suggested that sporting events and activities could be assigned 'risk levels' as a way to distinguish between those that were more or less likely to raise transmission levels. Respondents suggested these 'risk level' classifications could be used by the Scottish Government when giving advice about exercise and recreational activities.

Use of parks and outdoor spaces

A smaller number of ideas discussed opening outdoor gyms, holding outdoor gym classes, and opening playgrounds for children while still observing physical distancing by limiting the number of people accessing these facilities at a time.

While most respondents were supportive of such suggestions, many highlighted that if shared equipment was involved, strict hygiene measures would have to be followed.

Some supported easing restrictions to allow sitting, relaxing, sunbathing, or picnicking outdoors - either in remote outdoor locations or in parks. Other respondents, however, were notably more sceptical about easing measures regarding outdoor relaxation. They expressed concerns that sunbathing and picnicking were intrinsically more social activities that risked overcrowding in tight spaces.

It was noticeable that calls for allowing general outdoor relaxation often stemmed from concerns that particular demographics (flat residents, low income groups, urban populations) were disproportionately disadvantaged by restrictions on outdoor activity. Some suggested that public parks could be used for relaxation but with priority given to those who do not have a private garden of their own, and particularly children. Suggestions also included reopening outdoor spaces like zoos and botanic gardens.

There were calls for the regular monitoring of endangered species by volunteers to restart, in particular nesting sites. These are in remote rural locations which, it was argued, pose little risk.


Many respondents were supportive of easing restrictions to permit short car journeys for leisure or exercise. Short drives to local countryside, woodland, and beaches, were widely seen as easy, low-risk ways to boost wellbeing for households while "alleviating the monotony of being at home." Many tended to emphasise that short car journeys would allow the traffic of outdoor activity to be directed away from increasingly congested residential areas.

Some called for caution. They described the need to take measures in high-demand "honeypot locations" to limit transmission risks. These could be keeping popular car parks closed, issuing permits, or providing guidance on choosing quiet locations. Views were split as to whether distance limits should be applied. Some felt that the public should be able to roam into "further afield areas" - while maintaining safe distancing. Yet, there were a large number of respondents who stressed that strict distance limits should be in place to ensure that drivers "stay local." There were concerns about "city people driving to rural Scotland, swamping small villages" and the risk associated with virus clusters emerging in areas where the health service capacity is lower.

However, others argued that everyone should have equal access to the countryside and outdoor pursuits, regardless of where you live. There were also concerns from those living large distances from loved ones that travel restrictions could prevent them from seeing family or friends even if restrictions on seeing loved ones are eased.

There was discussion on subsidising electric bikes and scooters to encourage active travel and reduce the burden on public transport and the environmental impact of more people using cars. Suggestions included a salary sacrifice scheme.

There was commentary on the use of cars being discouraged due to the requirement for interactions for fuel/maintenance. Others, however, argued that public transport is limited in rural areas, and many see public transport as higher risk for transmission.

Face masks[10]

Face masks were a popular theme and key issues included whether or not they should be mandatory, their availability and cost, and how to manage this requirement without diverting supplies away from frontline health services. There was also debate about cost implications of mass supplying face masks, and of the sufficiency of the scientific evidence to make this mandatory. Many felt that people could use other forms of face coverings on a voluntary basis.

"I would feel much safer if everyone is wearing a mask in places where I cannot avoid people."

There was discussion on requiring people engaging in outdoor sport like running and cycling to wear facemasks. Some noted that runners and cyclists have not been adhering to the two-metre social distancing advice and that there may be an additional risk from these people due to the "slipstream" effect. Others argued that it would be dangerous to require people to wear masks when exercising and that this could discourage people from engaging activities that are good for their health.

There is concern about the impact of face masks on deaf people or those who have a hearing impairment. It was suggested that the policy is discriminatory and could significantly disadvantage deaf people, limit their independence and risk their safety:

"Deaf people cannot lipread if everyone is wearing masks. Sound is also muffled if people are speaking through masks. There are other disabilities who will struggle to wear masks. Our needs are not being taken into account."

Reopening places of worship

Some respondents suggested that places of worship should be reopened if they can do so safely while observing physical distancing. They highlighted the value of religious settings for 'mental and emotional health,' especially for the elderly and vulnerable people. A few respondents emphasised that religion is a human right, and felt that if places of worship remained closed while leisure activities were reopened, this would be discriminatory.

"Faith is more important than ever in these times. To be able to visit places of worship in a safe manner with appropriate measures to facilitate health and wellbeing would be so helpful to faith communities."

A small number of respondents raised concerns about this idea, including the argument that faith could be practiced safely at home and that the demographics of those most likely to use places of worship may include some of the most 'at risk' from the virus.

Reopening garden centres[11]

There was much support for reopening garden centres to allow people to access the resources for gardening, highlighting the physical and mental health benefits of this both as a leisure activity and a form of exercise. There was a concern that some businesses that sell gardening supplies have remained open and that this has been additionally detrimental to garden centres and plant nurseries. Some highlighted risks of a "rush" on stores and concerns that older, more 'at-risk' people may be the most likely to attend. Suggestions included implementing "click and collect" and queuing systems similar to supermarkets.

Allowing travel to second homes

There was some discussion on visiting second homes and using caravans. Arguments for this include increasing wellbeing, protecting against property damage and potential costs that will be incurred due to any damage during lockdown.

"It's people's property, they need to make sure it's secure, damp and damage free for starters. It could be costly if things are just left. Caravans need to be opened up and aired in this weather. Also for people's mental well-being."

Others point out that caravan club membership fees are still being paid, but without being able to use the facilities. However, there were those arguing that travelling to second properties would involve attending local facilities which would increase risk of disease spread.



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