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Campaigners have called on the government to urge people not to drive or light wood-burning stoves during toxic air spikes rather than telling vulnerable people not to exercise or go outside.

London suffered its worst air pollution since 2018 on Friday, when experts predicted it would hit “band 10”, the highest level on the scale.

The government has issued warnings and advised older people and people with lung or heart problems to avoid strenuous physical activity. Even healthy people were told to “reduce physical exertion, especially outdoors, especially if you have symptoms such as a cough or sore throat”.

Air pollution campaigners, however, said it was unacceptable to impose more restrictions on the elderly or sick rather than tackling the sources of pollution.

Jemima Hartshorn of Mums for Lungs said: “Londoners are facing the highest episode of pollution in years. It has been known for days that today would be very unhealthy and what we need is a clear plea to every Londoner not to drive, idle or burn no wood.

“Just asking vulnerable people not to exercise, without asking everyone not to reduce their contribution to pollution is unfair and absolves people of their responsibility.”

Greenpeace UK Chief Scientist Doug Parr said: ‘Resorting to telling people not to exercise during spikes in air pollution levels is like asking victims of burglaries not to exercise. not get robbed.

“While the health warnings should be taken seriously, they must be accompanied by a request for Londoners to stop all non-essential driving and the use of wood-burning stoves. It is only by stopping the causes of air pollution that it will be brought under control.

“London’s dangerous levels of air pollution are certainly not the fault of those who want to jog.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which issued the guidelines this week, declined to comment when asked to respond to calls from campaigners.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said earlier this week that the capital could be mired in traffic jams due to a switch to driving during the Covid pandemic, risking another health crisis from pollution.

Members of Khan’s team called on people to drive only if essential on Friday, but there was no official message from his office urging Londoners to leave their cars at home or stop burning fuel. drink.

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