CHILDREN and their families can still get outside and exercise but they must “cut right down” on social interactions, one of England’s health chiefs has said.

It comes after schools across the country closed today (Friday) and the government announced that gyms and leisure centres would also have to close under stringent new social distancing measures.

Speaking during the prime minster’s daily press conference, Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, was asked what those measures meant for children wishing to socialise and exercise in the coming weeks.

Sam Coates, of Sky News, said: “Millions of children broke up today for the last time from school. Can you just be crystal clear about what children should and shouldn’t do from Monday?

“Can they go to the park, go to the playground, have playdates with their friends?”

Dr Harries pointed to guidance published today from the DfE, adding: “The basic strand running through all of these measures is about social distancing and reducing the totality of our social interactions.

“That applies to children just as it does to the rest of us but also there is a balance there between maintaining physical and mental wellbeing when we are going through what will be, for all of us, quite a stressful period.

“So for children who are at home, a family or a household group usually has the same sort of exposure risk, so put nicely that just means it’s okay for them to play together usually in their own home environment, kick a ball around in the garden if they have one.

“We’re not saying don’t go outside, but we are saying if you go outside go in a way that reduces your social contact.”

Dr Harries acknowledge there was a “safety issue” for children in that they obviously should not be going to parks on their own.

“That would not be a helpful public health measure,” she said.

“But certainly with appropriate supervision, buddying children, for example, keeping two meters apart for a bike ride together or something, that is absolutely fine. And in many ways, we would encourage that.

“But there are some simple principles again around that. Make sure you hang onto your own bike, your own equipment, wash your hands regularly, if you’ve got coughs and sneezes use a tissue, all the things we’ve been encouraging people to do.

“The weather is getting better, we want children to be exercising but to do so not in groups. And I think one of the issues is where you have team games, for example, it’s not just the team game itself which can be problematic, so I would not encourage those, but the most important bit is the social element around it.

“So if everybody piles up in shared cars that’s not a good thing to do. And if everybody tried, they won’t be able to now, but if everybody tried to go to a café or restaurant afterwards that would also not be a good thing to do.”

Dr Harries concluded: “So exercising; fine. But cut right down on the social connections.”