(Reuters) - Riding a bicycle should be encouraged as a safe means of transport and improving resistance to coronavirus during the ongoing pandemic, British Cycling said on Thursday.
Julia Harrington, the organization's chief executive, has written to health secretary Matt Hancock to urge the government to add cycling to a list of recommended activities during the outbreak which has infected around 2,600 people in the UK and killed 137.
In the letter, published on British Cycling's website, she said: "As an organization we are absolutely supportive of the Government's advice to stop all unnecessary journeys and remain at home in a state of semi-isolation, and we understand this situation may continue for some time.
"While I am glad to see the Government recommend walking as a way to stay active and alleviate some of the issues related to prolonged isolation, I believe it is in all our interests to extend this advice to also include cycling."
Britain has so far taken a less draconian approach to containing the spread of the virus than some countries, and has opted against the kind of total lockdowns currently in operation in Italy and Spain where 'recreational' cycling has been actively discouraged.
In France cycling is basically forbidden other than for those riding to work.
Harrington, however, is urging that cycling alone should be permitted in Britain, even if the government tightens its response to the coronavirus spread.
"Riding bicycles offers us a unique solution to several of the key challenges facing us," she said.
"It is a safe form of local transport and gentle recreation, keeping us the required distance from others, while at the same time strengthening immune systems and bolstering mental health.
"All of this helps reduce the strain on our NHS and may make people feel more comfortable about prolonged periods at home."
Britain will close almost all schools from Friday and has recommended 'social distancing' measures and strongly advised people not to meet in groups and to avoid pubs and restaurants.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson)