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Social distancing and COVID-19: an unprecedented active transport public health opportunity
  1. John H M Brooks1,
  2. Richard Tingay2,
  3. Justin Varney3
  1. 1 Connect Health, The Nelson Health Centre, Merton, London, UK
  2. 2 Rugby Football Union, Twickenham, London, UK
  3. 3 Director of Public Health, Birmingham City Council, Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr John H M Brooks, Connect Health, Merton, UK; johnbrooks{at}

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Social distancing measures to control the spread of COVID-19 are themselves likely to have had a negative impact on health and inequalities,1 but they could be an unprecedented public health opportunity in other ways.

Social distancing is likely to limit public transport capacity for the foreseeable future. Staggered work times and flexible working may alleviate some public transport crowding, but travel will still be necessary. Alternatives to increase transport capacity will be required, particularly in crowded cities where increased personal car use is unfeasible and potentially environmentally unfriendly.

Up to 90% of active commuters walking or cycling have been shown to meet the minimum physical activity guidelines, with evidence of a consequential lower risk of CVD and mortality, all-cause mortality and cancer outcomes.2 Other benefits include environmental change and improvements in mood and self-esteem.3 However, commuters may choose to increase personal car use, potentially reducing physical activity levels with negative health and environmental impacts.

More than 80% of journeys into London in the morning peak used rail-based services in 2019, only 11% of the UK adult population is thought to cycle at least once per week ( and 59% of car …

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  • Contributors JHMB initiated the conception of the work and drafted the article. RT and JV helped design and revised it critically for important intellectual content. All authors approved the final version and agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.