UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of hypocrisy after he was reportedly spotted seven miles (11 kilometres) from Downing Street cycling around Olympic Park on Sunday afternoon.
Sophia Sleigh, a journalist from the Evening Standard, tweeted at the time that she was "99.9% sure Boris Johnson just cycled past me in Olympic Park with an entourage of fellow security cyclists".
She noted that he was "complete with his TfL hat on and a face mask", adding, "alas, I did not have time to ask him my follow up question".
99.9% sure Boris Johnson just cycled past me in the Olympic park with an entourage of fellow security cyclists. Complete with his TfL hat on🚴♂️— Sophia Sleigh (@SophiaSleigh) January 10, 2021
Alas, I did not have time to ask him my follow up question...
The Evening Standard also quoted an unnamed source as confirming that Johnson was exercising and "did note how busy the park was and he commented on it at the meeting last night".
"He was concerned about if people were following the rules and was concerned after his cycle ride around the park", the source added.
With the UK currently under a third national lockdown, official government guidance stipulates that exercise should be limited to once a day and that "you should not travel outside your local area", something that, however, is not enshrined in law.
Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, was quick to reproach Johnson for his alleged bike ride, saying that "once again it is do as I say not as I do from the prime minister".
Slaughter recalled that "London has some of the highest infection rates in the country", and stressed that "Boris Johnson should be leading by example".
He was echoed by some netizens who reacted to the news by posting tweets, in which they berated the British prime minister for "hypocrisy".
He'd be safer on an exercise bike at home. Message is "stay home"!— Joan Quin (@MimmlesQ) January 12, 2021
He is a hypocrite rides 7 miles on a bike & tells us we've got to stay at home, then he hasn't even come out and spoke about it! Why's that 🤔 Oh yeah he's the Prime Minister!— Rob Maximus Lorenzo44 (@RobLorenzo44) January 11, 2021
Not sure he is entirely staying local as per the rules. Bit far from Westminster 🤔— Robin Miller-Stott (@rmillerstott) January 10, 2021
Johnson's press service has yet to comment on the matter, with a Downing Street source cited by the media as claiming that the PM's exercise was "in line with COVID rules and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong".
When asked whether one is allowed to exercise seven miles away from one's home, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for his part, told reporters on Monday that "it is OK to go - if you went for a long walk - and ended up seven miles away from home".
"That is OK, but you should stay local. You should not go from one side of the country to another potentially taking the virus with you. Remember one in three people who have the virus don't know they have it because they have no symptoms and yet still pass it on", he added.
The view was supported by the UK’s Policing Minister Kit Malthouse, who told Sky News that longer local cycle trips were acceptable under the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
"[…] What we're asking people to do is when they exercise to stay local, now local is obviously open to interpretation but people broadly know what local means. If you're [...] genuinely taking exercise and not going out for other purpose social purposes, then that seems perfectly reasonable”, he pointed out, referring to Johnson’s alleged bike ride as a once a day exercise.
The developments come about a week after Johnson announced a third national lockdown in a bid to contain a new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 which continues to spread.
He earlier warned that there was "no question we will have to take tougher measures, pledging his government would "do everything we can to keep the virus under control".
There are already more than three million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK, with 81,567 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.