Joanna Cherry's office said 'just turn your back' sufficient for social distancing

But a member of the Edinburgh South West MP’s staff admitted its advice was “sub-optimal”.

By Alastair Dalton
Friday, 17th April 2020, 7:30 am
Updated Friday, 17th April 2020, 4:47 pm
The Union Canal at Fountainbridge in Edinburgh. Picture: Scott Louden.
The Union Canal at Fountainbridge in Edinburgh. Picture: Scott Louden.

A constituent concerned about crowding on the Union Canal near his home was told by Joanna Cherry: “The government guidance says that it is prolonged close exposure to the virus, for instance a group of people sitting around a dining table, that carries the most risk.

A case worker, replying on behalf of the SNP politician, added: “Passing people on a path, if you turn your back to the other person will be low risk”.

The advice came despite repeated calls from health experts and the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that social distancing rules meant “staying at least two metres apart from other people when you go out”.

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Concerns have been raised about social distancing on towpaths. Picture: Scott Louden.

The resident who received the MP’s letter was flabbergasted.

Andrew MacArthur said: “I was particularly concerned by the response from local MP Joanna Cherry, which was, to say the least, ill-informed.

“This is simply not true and beggars belief that one of our political leaders would send out this message.”

He said he had written to Ms Cherry and other politicians to raise awareness of the crowding problem on the canal.

Mr MacArthur said: “I was horrified to see hundreds of people using the towpath over the Easter weekend and last weekend, passing each other within inches.

“These people are not only placing themselves at risk but potentially hundreds of other people and our NHS at risk.

“I’m sure that the same people will be out clapping the NHS on a Thursday night, yet they do not realise that they may be killing our nurses and doctors.

“I know Scottish Canals have placed signs but they are not working.

“My wife is one of those NHS frontline workers.

Fury

“I cannot describe the fury that she describes, not just from herself but her whole team of doctors and nurses and other staff, on learning that not only are people openly flouting the Government advice, but that there appears a lack of political will to change this, to save lives.”

Ms Cherry’s office issued a statement from the MP in response to Mr MacArthur’s comments but offered no apology or explanation for the advice given.

Ms Cherry said: “Government guidance about exercising is clear.

“People should stay two metres apart when taking their daily exercise.

“Where space is limited, people should take care to pass safely in line with the guidelines.

“My office has spoken to Scottish Canals who have made clear the towpaths remain open and accessible to use as they are important for transport purposes, provide access to boaters, and have multiple access points.

“I would encourage everyone to use outdoor spaces responsibly.”

Lothians Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: “Government guidelines on social distancing are very clear, and the 2m rule must be adhered to at all times.

“There is really no room for interpretation.

“The Union Canal path is undoubtedly busy with both walkers and cyclists, and in such a narrow space it can be a little awkward - but not impossible - to maintain social distancing.

“However, it is vital people respect each other’s space on these small pathways, and for those who are cycling to slow down and give room to walkers, especially the elderly and people with small children.

“We need to take the time to consider those around us, and minimise the chances of transmitting the virus whenever possible.”

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