How should we interpret the official advice as to whether a short drive to a walk is permissable?


Footpath Stile - geograph.org.uk - 244071

West Berkshire Liberal Democrat Councillor Tony Vickers has written the following on a public Coronavirus Facebook group:

I would contest the advice of TVP (Thames Valley Police). Where do these Regulations say anything about not using a car or limiting the distance one can travel to take exercise?

…There is some confusion about how to interpret the official advice on staying at home when it comes to one of the four allowed exceptions : to “do one form of exercise”. As the Council’s appointee on the Local Access Forum (LAF), which has a statutory duty to advise all public bodies on access to the countryside, I am personally interpreting this as follows. This advice only applies to people feeling well and with no special risk factors.

The most important thing when outdoors is to keep two metres apart from anyone who isn’t a member of your household. This can be harder in a town park or pavement than in the open countryside.
Of course ‘honeypot’ destinations in the countryside – especially their car parks – can quickly become crowded. These are the places where police can be expected to patrol and quite rightly to advise people to avoid.

But there are 750 miles (over 1000 kms) of well signposted public rights of way in West Berkshire and dozens of quiet lanes with little traffic at these times. [Other counties are available – but keep local.] In this dry spring weather, as Cllr Dillon pointed out last week in a letter, these are ideal places to take your ration of outdoor exercise and enjoy the spring sunshine.

Many of these paths and tracks are within a few minutes’ walk of our towns, or a short drive away. One can park with care without inconveniencing anyone and never see another person for hours. Even if everyone else has the same idea, there’s room for us all 2m apart!

It is a very interesting point. Please leave your thoughts on this in the comments field below.

My own view is that to “do one form of exercise” does not include driving, as I don’t see how driving can be interpreted as a “form of exercise”.

The supplementary government guidance says:

one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.

– No mention of driving.

I would also point out this paragraph in the government’s supplementary guidance, which seems unequivocal:

14. Can I drive to a national park or other green space to walk?
We advise you to stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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34 Comments

  • ‘Do not travel unnecessarily’ I can walk 15 mins to my nearest park that is busy – along pavements that can be difficult to keep distance with a marauding toddler or I can drive 20 mins to somewhere with loads of space where she can run around freely (and not get upset because she can see a playground but not go in it). Who cares if I’m driving as long as we keep away from people? It’s not like the roads are busy!!

  • The length of the period of exercise also seems to be an issue. I have been out on the hills most days for about 5 hrs and when I see anyone which isn’t very often they are easy to avoid. We are going to come out of this with a nation of biscuit and take away tubbies and some very fit walkers and cyclists.

  • John Marriott 30th Mar '20 - 10:00am

    Just got back from our literally weekly shop. This consisted of my driving my wife to Lidl, where bemasked and gloved citizens, mainly of a certain age, were queuing patiently and keeping their distance for the doors to open. As my wife hates me to accompany her grocery shopping on the pretext that I keep losing her amongst the aisles as I invariably see someone I know from my councillor days, I spent 20 minutes in the blue badge bay catching up with the family on WhatsApp – and getting told off in the process by one of my daughters in law for going out at all.

    We then proceeded to ‘visit’ a couple of friends, who are also of a certain age as well. The ‘visits’ in both cases consisted of my stopping the car and my wife jumping out to deliver and pick up some new thrillers. In the case of the first stop, we were rewarded with a cake, left, with the books, in our friends’ porch. I intend, despite a diet that has seen me lose two stones since Christmas, to sample this frugal delicacy after I have finished sending in this post.

    One other thought, Paul, about enforcement. Have we got enough police to keep us off the streets if we all decide to take the liberal view and not do as we are told?

    You know, perhaps I ought to have sent this to Mary’s ‘isolation’ blog instead. However, hopefully she might get to read it! 🤞

  • There has to be some kind of rule about leaving your home to exercise and driving to get there.
    Ok the weather is not too pleasing at the moment so it may not be much of a problem but in a couple of weeks time when it starts to warm up it could well be and the police need to avoid masses of people jumping in their cars to drive to the beach, forests, lakes etc.
    The police cannot be managing roads like every day is a bank holiday it will put far to much pressure on emergency services.

    Although I am fortunate to live rurally, it is an about 10-mile drive to some beautiful lakes and amazing woodland walks where I would “prefer” to go with my dogs but I accept that this is not possible. Everybody who lives within a 50-mile radius is aware of the beauty spot and it is a magnet for walkers and twitchers and sunbathers during the summer months and you can rest assured once the weather warms up families would be flocking there in their cars “if” they were allowed to do so.

    That’s why the rules have to be put in place now and people get used to them before the weather warms up as it will cause a lot more resentment than what already exists if the Government were to wait and then start introducing more bans/enforcements later down the track as it warms up

  • Driving more than necessary isn’t recommended, because the fewer miles we drive, the fewer accidents, which is good news for the emergency services. Fewer cars on the road means people walking can sometimes move out into the road to give each other space. Buying petrol at a self service pump is pretty low risk in the grand scheme of things, but still carries a small risk if you can’t wash your hands or use hand sanitiser afterwards.

    We all have to use our judgement on this, and consider the spirit of the rules, not just the letter of them. If you happen to have a large garden, then you could go several days without any need to leave it. If you have a large garden, you probably live in an area with a low population density, so when you do go out, there’s plenty of space for you to keep your distance from neighbours. However, if you live in a more built up area, you may have a small garden, or no garden at all. If you go for a half hour walk from your front door you might have to use narrow pavements, and pass multiple groups of people on the way. If you can jump into your car and go for a short drive to somewhere with more space, then that’s the more responsible thing to do IMO, so long as you are sensible and don’t try a bit of climbing or walk somewhere you are at increased risk of a twisted ankle.

    The rules also say one bit of exercise each day, but some people and their dogs might be better off having a couple of longer walks a week, then be happy to stay at home in their modest garden the rest of the time, with perhaps an early morning walk around the block. If that means a few short drives to somewhere you know well, then it could be a better interpretation of the guidance than pounding busy streets for your allocated time period each day.

  • The length of time spent outside is limited by the capacity of the bladder, as public toilets and other premises we would otherwise use for their facilities are all closed – but there may be some well-watered bushes out there!

  • Apologies for the double post. I forgot to add that it’s absolutely essential that anyone driving for a walk is prepared to change their plans if they realise their intended quiet destination turns out to be busier than usual. However, that also applies to walking from your front door. I’ve been trying to time my daily outings for a quiet time of day.

    But I am seeing a lot of people who are lucky enough to have big houses, big gardens and easy walking from their actual door step showing a complete lack of understanding, never mind empathy, for those in more built up areas. Either that or they never do any exercise and can’t understand why it’s important for others.

    There may come a time when they will have to introduce a ‘no driving’ rule, but it will hugely disadvantage the poorer in society. And yes, that applies to those without cars, because if I can use my car to allow me to walk somewhere quieter, then it means it’s safer for those who don’t have a car.

    And don’t forget, we are helping the NHS by doing our best to stay healthy. High blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are all risk factors for COVID-19. If we all stay more cooped up than necessary and develop these problems, we are adding to the burden for the NHS.

  • It’s a difficult one. As a liberal I think this some leeway. But as a youngish healthy urbanite thinking about people stuck in flats, bedsits, hostels, and so on, I suspect there’s more than a touch of I’m all right jack coming from our older more rural demographic. Having spent the last few years listening to “the I believe the children are the future” stuff, it’s a real eye opener to see the keep em’ away and locked up attitude coming to surface, to the point where I suspect some are actively enjoying the peace, empty roads and sense of power they have. This is why I also suspect there will be a reluctance to give up lockdown and curfew measures even after the crisis is over. Oooh, it’s so peaceful, the crime rate has gone right down and there’s no young people hanging around the local park, we should have more of it.

  • @Fiona ” but some people and their dogs might be better off having a couple of longer walks a week, but some people and their dogs might be better off having a couple of longer walks a week,”

    Well our dog is quite liking the 3 walks a day she is currently getting – and thus the attention from all the family, naturally she behaves differently depending on who is walking with her… I think she would say that on none of these occasions is she actually going out for exercise, she is merely accompanying a human to ensure they do at least 10 minutes of directed exercise – my son has built the expectation of a 10 minute run, he now has the choice: run or be dragged…

  • I’m sure every LibDem would, after driving 20 miles to a beauty spot and finding lots of cars already there, would turn around and go elsewhere..But, sadly, not everyone is a LibDem…
    There are those who, even within walking distance of homes, lack consideration..Yesterday my son was walking his two young sons around a nearby park..He said there were 4 ‘oldies’ walking abreast along the path who made no attempt to allow him room to pass and he had to wait among the bushes for them to pass..Iasked why he hadn’t challenged them; “Not when the boys were with me” was his (sensible) answer..

  • But I am seeing a lot of people who are lucky enough to have big houses, big gardens and easy walking from their actual door step showing a complete lack of understanding, never mind empathy, for those in more built up areas. Either that or they never do any exercise and can’t understand why it’s important for others.

    Quite. I’m not going to be getting into the car to drive, because I have a garden (small, but it’ll do), and 5 mins walk away down a suburban street I can reach a large if boring park and further quiet if boring walks over a field. So I should stay put. But for other people, who have nothing on their doorstep, a short drive and sensible behaviour when they get there is much better than everyone pounding along the same busy street. Especially if it allows children to run about without coming into contact with others. If your choice is the pavement by a main road, or 10 mins drive to a deserted playing field where the kids can play with a football, it should be no contest that the latter is better for everybody. Not least the people who can’t drive and thus are compelled to exercise on their doorstep, often including the elderly for whom maintaining physical activity is vital for the long-term if they are otherwise in good health, but who could do without being passed by a lot of joggers and dog walkers. And para. 14 backs fits fine with this approach – it says stay local, and use local green space where possible. A drive of a couple of miles so you reach the local green space achieves just that.

    There are also differences to be borne in mind about what “rural” means. Somewhere in the Highlands with very limited local services can’t bear a weight of people driving up a long distance is in a very different situation to a commuter village in Berkshire where everyone shops by a choice of 3 different supermarket deliveries or the retail part 10 mins down the M4.

    All of us need to be considerate, and that includes both not going to picnic for 3 hours on people’s village greens, but also not being over-zealous about people going to quiet, accessible places following the government guidelines. The police should stick to where people are behaving in a way that presents a genuine hazard.

  • @Expats, I agree that not everyone would have the sense to turn around if they see a park or car park is busy, and that may result in the government introducing stricter measures. If that happens, then people must abide by those rules, but until that happens then we should be supportive of people making sensible decisions and not try to shame people who are choosing something safer for them and their neighbours.

    I also agree that the bigger problem are those who are selfish while out for exercise. I’ve noticed most people being very considerate, instinctively moving out of the way of each other, often stepping onto the road to do so. However, there are some families who take up the full width of the path, or people who stay just on ‘their side’ of the path, bringing them within 2m of those passing on the edge of the other side.

    A few joggers round here seem to think the pace at which they pass you means it’s OK to give just 0.5m, but if I can feel the heat from your body and hear your wheezing, then you are too close and your heavy breathing and sweatiness makes you more dangerous to be near. The same goes for cyclists, although they aren’t usually as sweaty or out of breath!

    I’m more forgiving of the kids on scooters, but I am trusting that parents are trying to educate their children to the etiquette without being too scary about it, so this will improve.

  • @John Marriott – thanks, and I did see it.
    I haven’t been out of the house at all for 2 weeks now, and I’m beginning to enjoy living in my safe nest. Exercise is courtesy of Joe Wicks, and fresh air in my small garden when it is fine.

  • James Fowler 30th Mar '20 - 3:35pm

    @ Glenn. I also dislike the rather bossy self righteousness that these restrictions have engendered. I think that there’s something in what you say and I’d like to add some additional points for debate.
    1. For many people this is a essentially a risk free, fully paid, extended holiday. At some level, they may or may not feel quite guilty about this. Presentationally there is a real danger that, unrestrained, some people will treat it as such whilst others are losing their jobs/working desperately/dying in hospitals. I speculate that much of the subliminal purpose of the official regulations is to ensure that Nobody Has Fun during this Official Period Of Mourning – and hence much the wider rather overbearing social censoriousness. There is no real difference between five people seen fell-running together in the freezing rain and five people sunbathing on beach, but you can bet that it would be the sun bathers who would be wrist slapped. However, the fact is that society normally tolerates misery and pleasure side by side and has no problem with it at all. But this is a novel situation, so…
    2. In new situations people want to do the right thing but are very unsure what that is. They take a private poll from surrounding social messaging and loudly go with it – even outdoing current norms to prove a point. As well as common sense, fear and selflessness in terms of calling for limits to personal liberty – which all seem fair to me – there’s also a lot of virtue signalling going on at the moment, which worries me because virtuous societies are appallingly intolerant places to live in.

  • John Marriott 30th Mar '20 - 3:49pm

    @Mary Reid
    My dear wife tried Joe Wicks yesterday on Youtube and ended up knackered after the warmup alone! Full marks to Mr Wicks and the same for Jamie Oliver and his team for putting together their latest series in double quick time. How about some free drinks to cheer us up, courtesy of Mr T Martin (as long as they don’t come from the EU)?

  • Jenny Barnes 30th Mar '20 - 4:21pm

    Just been shopping – people fairly well behaved in the q, but not in the shop. Staff and other customers behaving just like always, far too close. Probably more dangerous than going for a walk.

  • Peter Davies 30th Mar '20 - 5:10pm

    Surely it is possible to have clarity around this. Don’t we wish, primarily, for people to exercise AWAY from others/crowds. If a short drive facilitates this, any risk of an accident is limited and acceptable.

  • Being an exact contemporary of Tony Vickers, I am officially part of a vulnerable group. However I get withdrawal symptoms when I haven’t got hundreds of Focuses to deliver most weeks. In claiming my daily walk I found no great difficulty keeping my distance in this fairly densely populated urban area. The woman in front of the post box didn’t mind being asked to move. Other people have understood about crossing the road. We are blessed with some of the steepest gradients in the city so I confess that I counted walking up to the radio transmitter as two days exercise.

  • Tony Greaves 30th Mar '20 - 9:10pm

    All the gradients in Bradford are steep (apart from Manningham Lane and Canal Road). Actually this is a good example of where some people at national level with sensible views have had their sensible advice mucked up by people who do not know what they are talking about, and have no idea of what most of the country is like. And some over-fussy local police who ought to have better things to do.

    It would not be hard to give common sense advice. Avoid honeypots (except perhaps on a cold wet afternoon). Keep your distance. Avoid very narrow paths between walls or hedges. Go out for a long walk every few days or shorter walks every day. And if you live in a densely populated city and the local park is full of people, get in your car and go somewhere as near as possible where you are likely to be on your own. But not at the other end of the country.

    (We are fortunate – we can walk out of our front door and be on good local footpaths within a minute or two).

  • Tony Greaves 30th Mar '20 - 9:12pm

    As for some of the national tabloids – a fortnight ago they were giving advice on which national parts to go to, to get away from the virus. A week later they were denouncing the people who did just that.

  • The guidance doesn’t agree with the regulations (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/made). In the regulations there is no limit to the number of times a person can go out for exercise and there are no distance limits on how far a person can travel from their home.

    I couldn’t see any reference to maintaining a two metre gap between other people in the regulations either.

    It is good that the guidance clearly states that non-critical or non-essential workers can go to their places of work if they can’t work from home. Perhaps the police will stop talking about if a person’s travelling is essential or not.

    I wonder what, “to travel … to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person … to provide those services, from the place where they are living” covers?

    The police should only be enforcing the regulations and not the guidance.

  • In applying the much-called-for ‘common sense’ to the government rules, there has to be a recognition that much of the population is not only urban, but garden-less and unable to properly socially-distance outside on narrow pavements or in the precious little green space it can access on foot. Given the choice between dodging other pedestrians by having to walk in the road and play dodge with delivery lorries, or driving for a mile or two into the countryside, I know what I’d do. Closing obvious beauty spots is one thing, but for many people, acting responsibly by staying 2m+ away from others, and only visiting green spaces accessible on foot are mutually contradictory instructions which, if forced, will simply lead to people not being able to leave their homes. If, as we should expect, these conditions maintain for months and not weeks (and summer months, at that), insisting that urban residents don’t drive into the countryside at all will be both unsustainable and hugely counterproductive from a public health perspective. 92% of the country is farmland or natural. As Tony Vickers says, there is ample room for everyone to both access green space and be responsibly distant from others – provided people aren’t reactionary and petulant about it.

  • For some reason, the “once per day” limit on going out for exercise has been written into the Welsh but not the English Regulations

  • Tony’s post to Facebook raises an important and general Liberal point. The restrictions on movement that are currently in place are draconian, and have been implrmented by a Statutory Instrument that has not even been seen by Parliament, At any other time that would be seen as the actions of the worst type of totalitarian Government.

    The role of the police in our society is to enforce the law, not to invent it. The Statutory Instrument for England is clear that the restriction is on the reasons why you can leave your household, not the means by which you do it or indeed the frequency. The guidance on the gov.uk website and some interviews of Government ministers have recommended that people follow tighter restrictions, but these are not the law.

    Some police forces are trying to enforce these recommended restrictions as if they are the law, as in West Berkshire:
    https://www.newburytoday.co.uk/news/news/29868/coronavirus-don-t-drive-to-exercise-spots-warn-police.html

    In doing so they are going beyond the law, as discussed by a former Supreme Court judge in an article on the BBC News website – Coronavirus: Lord Sumption brands Derbyshire Police ‘disgraceful’:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-52095857

    The British legal system relies on policing by consent and respect for the rule of law. the current actions of the police are undermining that system, albeit unintentionally and in very trying circumstances.

    Of course, I agree with all of the commenters about applying common sense when taking exercise. The footpath nearest my house is quite narrow and heavily used by dog walkers. I can drive a few miles to where the paths are wide and I am may not see anyone else.

  • I have just found the latest Government guidance on Coronavirus – Guidance on access to green spaces. It says “stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily”.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-guidance-on-access-to-green-spaces
    That seems sensible and balanced.

  • Mario Caves 31st Mar '20 - 9:09am

    “The role of the police in our society is to enforce the law, not to invent it.”

    Absolutely.

  • A heartfelt thanks to Michel BG for the link to the regulations. My googling skills did not reach to finding them.
    As far as the actual content is concerned we need a prime minister capable of leading the country.
    A few examples of failure –
    When the WHO received details of the virus in January there should have been resolute action to deal with it. Basically this means having a robust plan for dealing with this sort of situation. That should have included sourcing the equipment needed and planning to ensure that it was built in the U.K. if needed. This is simply contingency planning which should result in plans which are regularly updated.
    When a decision was made about social distancing, Downing Street should have made sure that all meetings could take place remotely. It really was a joke to have a meeting in a room to tell the country how such meetings cannot take place.
    Advice should focus on what people can should do, rather than what they should not do. I would add who is really advising those who live in built up areas, especially London. What about the case of two couples sharing a two bedroom flat? How Do they stay physically and mentally fit.
    The people are doing their job – when will the government recognise that they need to lead by example and help people who will not be able to get medical help until they are really ill, unlike those in Downing Street who have advice on tap.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Mar '20 - 9:22am

    It is heartening to read so many sensible comments above. We need to keep our spirits up at this time, and I was downcast yesterday by the local incident of which I have commented on Paul Walter’s other thread – seeing aggressive Go Home notices securely fastened to a fence, opposite the gate to Cockermouth’s nearest small fell to which I had driven. This little fell is naturally popular, though there is no problem stepping aside to keep up social distancing, but there was nobody there but myself at about 5 pm yesterday. Had other people seen the notices and gone away disappointed? For myself I wondered if I might come back to find my lonely car vandalised.

    It really has become essential now to make plain to people that the regulations , as Michael BG explains above, do NOT mention any limit on travel from your home or any limitation on the amount of exercise you can take. A ‘reasonable excuse to leave home’ includes ‘to take exercise either alone or with household’. and that is all that is said about exercise. Clearly a walk in a park or countryside is good for people’s health, physical and mental, allows as has been mentioned above easier social distancing than in town streets, and will often require a drive to obtain it. We should stand up for this right.

  • @James I fear you are right and that some of the enforcement that’s supposed to keep us safe is about stopping us from getting any joy from our “approved exercise”.

    Of course everyone queueing to get that photo at that view is a bad thing, but if you are out anyway, then sending family and friends a few photos of your outing is not just acceptable, but an important part of staying connected and maintaining general morale.

    So far I’ve managed to keep my walks local and it’s not been too busy, but Sunday and yesterday it seemed to be much busier. I thought Sunday was because it was Sunday, but it was even busier yesterday. It might be I need to adjust the time when I go out, but I can’t help but think it’s because families are no longer driving those few miles to the larger parks because they are worried they’ll get into trouble.

    But in brighter news, I passed an old folks’ home which has a big conservatory viewable to the street and I saw one man picking his dog up to wave it at one of the residents. I think he knew her! I’m sure it cheered up the resident, but it also gave me a big smile. These moments of joy are important, and we should try to protect them so long as it’s safe.

  • Steve Comer 31st Mar '20 - 6:35pm

    The UK Government seem to be incapable of introducing measures which are clear and easy to understand, yet other countries manage it.

    I live in Cyprus where there are 8 specified reasons to leave the home, these include food shopping, and taking exercise. You send a text message with your passport or ID number and your postcode, approval comes back within seconds. When you go out you have to take your ‘phone and photo ID with you in case you are stopped by the Police. You are allowed ‘reasonable time’ which is interpreted as three hours, though there is some flexibility. As far as exercise is concern, that has to be taken in the area local to your address, and local means within a 2 km radius.

    Ireland and other countries are using similar restrictions. They seem to be able to do this in a way that can be clearly understood – why can’t the UK?

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Mar '20 - 8:02pm

    I am afraid Fiona may be right, and people may have been deterred from driving a few miles to a larger green area because of being worried about getting into trouble. That is appalling, and it is also disappointing when top policemen are talking on Radio 4 about persuasion rather than compulsion, yet not explaining that they don’t have the power to compel peaceful walkers (so long as they are keeping the social distancing rule) to go home.

    The trouble is that if people don’t find out the truth about this they may react with either depression or anger, and they could be angry either because their restorative walks seem to have been prevented, OR because they think other people are defying the police’s rightful actions, and in either case anger could lead to some instances of public disorder. (Not that I want people to fall into depression instead, of course! Let’s try to prevent either reaction.)

    I have now written to the Cumbria Lib Dem candidate for the postponed Police and Crime Commissioner election to ask her to take up this issue with the present incumbent, and I would urge other members to try similar action – ideas for it welcome.

  • A STEP TOO FAR :

    Use our common sense ? YES, of course.

    But tomorrow, the Scottish Government, who I have praised in the past , are presenting and trying to rush through a bill at Holyrood which will include a provision to suspend the use of juries in a criminal trial.

    NO, NO, NO, Mr Russell. It’s a step too far. It’s not beyond the wit of even you to devise a form of remote video conferencing.

  • @Steve Cromer

    I can’t believe you just mentioned having to give police or government your Telephone Number and passport number in order to get permission to leave your house to take exercise within a 2k radius of your home on this forum.

    You do realise that you will have some people on this forum chocking on their Horlicks this evening reading that lol.

    For what it’s worth I actually agree with you. I am dreading this weekend when temperatures are due to rise to around 20c in some parts of the UK and can just imagine what some of the roads and tourist spots are going to be like.

    As far as I am concerned we need strict measures in place before the weather warms up to address the problems before they occur which is inevitable is going to happen.

    The Government had the opportunity in the early stages of this virus to contain it by Vigorous Contact tracing and isolating people and forcing people to isolate who had come back from the infected area’s. Instead, they gave up fat to early and went for the “herd immunity” and only when they saw how that was going to overwhelm the NHS with catastrophic deaths did they backtrack.
    By then it was too late as the cat was already out of the bag and we have been playing catchup which has resulted in the need for more draconian lockdown measures to slow the spread.
    If we had followed the same path as Taiwan we would have had fewer infections, fewer deaths and no need to shut down as many businesses.

    I just hope lessons are going to be learnt for round 2 of this virus which we know is going to be coming in late Autumn / Winter we can not allow this situation to happen again

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