UK PM Johnson commits 2 billion pounds in cycling and walking health drive

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during question period at the House of Commons in London, Britain July 22, 2020. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to spend 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) on walking and cycling projects in England, seeking to improve public health and capitalise on a shift away from cars during the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier on Monday, Johnson used his own struggle with weight to urge Britons to get fitter as the government announced plans to ban TV and online adverts for junk food before 9.00 p.m.

The government wants to reduce demand on the publicly-funded National Health Service, which will have to handle any uptick in coronavirus cases over the winter alongside the annual seasonal pressures of illnesses such as flu.

“From helping people get fit and healthy and lowering their risk of illness, to improving air quality and cutting congestion, cycling and walking have a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face,” said Johnson.

Plans include building thousands of miles of protected bike routes, setting higher standards for cycling infrastructure, creating at least one “zero-emission transport city centre” and boosting access to electric bikes.

The first batch of repair vouchers to the value of 50 pounds, encouraging people to fix their old bicycles, is also due to be released.

Last month, Johnson said British people were fatter than most European counterparts apart from Malta and his government targeted “tackling the obesity time bomb”.

Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by William James