COMMENT:

Many New Zealanders are still confused about the rules of the lockdown - and government officials are not exactly being helpful, putting out conflicting advice that leads to misunderstandings and subsequent rule breaking.

One particular piece of advice that seems to change depending on the time of the day, the weather and the direction of the wind is whether or not people can drive somewhere for exercise during the lockdown.

We've had outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush say that the short answer to that question is "no".

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The scolding that Health Minister David Clark got after getting busted yesterday driving 2.3km to a mountain bike park should also make it clear that we should not be driving from our home to a place to exercise.

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Right, got it, could not be clearer. Must not drive anywhere to exercise. As someone who once paid for a gym for a full year without showing up, I have no trouble following that rule.

Except, maybe not.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today said: "People can go outside to get fresh air and drive short distances if needed."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson added: "If you need to make a short car journey to get yourself somewhere where you can exercise, that's okay too."

Why-oh-why would you fuel more confusion?

In truth, Robertson was not saying anything different to what's been said before but no doubt a load of people will misinterpret it to suit their will.

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In reality, the message should still be clear: Robertson did start his sentence with "if you need to", not "if you want to".

As much as some will try to say otherwise, no one in New Zealand "needs" to drive anywhere to exercise or get some fresh air.

Exercise can be done in your living room. Fresh air is just outside your front door.

What the government needs is to be careful with language. If we can't drive somewhere to exercise, say that, and say it clearly - no ifs, no buts. Do not give people the chance to misinterpret the message by throwing an "if" in there.

There's no "if".

Your car is for access to essential services - nothing else.

In any case, as responsible adults, we shouldn't need the government to tell us something that is a matter of common sense.

Forget the "can we/can't we" debate. The real question is whether we should.

And none of us should have any doubts, by now, that we clearly shouldn't, because:

1. We don't need to

Maybe there is some poor soul out there whose front door opens directly on to a motorway but, save for that unfortunate exception, we can all step outside our front door and break into a walk or a jog without encountering any dangerous hazards. Luckily - and unlike many other countries - most of us also have a yard, front or back, however modest, which is a haven of fresh air during this stay home period. If need be, we can do entire Youtube workouts from our deck. We can come up with every excuse under the sun for why we need to get in the car to go exercise somewhere but the truth is, the only reason to do it is because you want to, not because you need to.

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2. We shouldn't risk breaking our bubble

Imagine someone crashes into you during your drive - totally their fault, you're a great driver. The AA has to come out and the poor people have to break their bubbles to be in contact with you, all because you increased the risk of that happening by driving when you didn't really need to. Don't be that guy.

3. We should leave the roads to essential workers

Essential workers are putting themselves at enough risk right now - they do not need you and I out there adding to that risk (yes, I know you're an impeccable driver but, remember, others aren't so best if we remove ourselves from that situation).

4. Why ruin the one single benefit of this lockdown?

Reports that air quality has been improving all across New Zealand are the one single benefit of an otherwise incredibly bad situation. Air quality is improving because your car is parked at home. Keep it that way.

Government officials are confusing us all with mixed messages about what we can and can't do. But we're also smart enough to figure out what we should and shouldn't do, without having to be told.

Understand that every time you leave the house you put yourself and you put others at risk.

Things like the purchase of food or medicine to keep yourself and your family healthy and fed are non-negotiable.

Everything else can wait. Stay home. Only three weeks to go - but it'll be longer if people (ahem) keep driving their bikes around instead of riding them.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website