An easing of the lockdown was always going to pose a dilemma for Britain’s coastal towns and tourist hot spots.
In the South West in particular, where infection rates are the lowest in England, locals have long worried that the sudden influx of visitors that would follow a lifting of the travel ban would cause a spike that could overwhelm local health services.
However, the local economy needs tourists. And with each lockdown extension, the outlook becomes more grave for the region’s many hospitality businesses and the hundreds of thousands of individuals who they employ.
For many, it’s not a case of hunkering down, writing off 2020 and prepping for summer 2021. Most bars, restaurants and surf schools survive purely on the profits made from Easter to early autumn. If these are written off, these businesses will either require huge government subsidies or simply fold, taking hard won livelihoods with them.
Boris’ announcement last night certainly hasn’t done much to address these concerns. Firstly, if offered no clear cut statement on inter-regional travel, saying only that you could now drive to sunbathe and exercise. Secondly, it gave little clarity on when and how tourist-reliant businesses could start to safely reopen.
Of course, there’s much more detail to come later today, but if we were being critical in our interpretation, we’d say last night’s speech will lead to open season for tourists and second homeowners, while bringing none of the economic benefits for the local community.
“I don’t think it [Mr Johnson’s speech] was too helpful – it added more confusion rather than clarity,” Malcolm Bell, chief exec of Visit Cornwall told Cornwall Live in a statement that summed up much of the community’s response.
“The bottom line though is that we don’t want people turning up in Cornwall on Wednesday.”
“I am hoping this 50-page document will spell out the limitations on that. I’d hope it would say no travelling of more than 10 miles, something along those lines,” he added.
However, Dominic Raab has already confirmed this morning on the BBC that the new regulations contain no such distance limits, leaving many in the community reeling.
It does seem acutely unfair that those living in an area with extremely low transmission rates are still unable to socialise with friends and family, while those from areas with much higher rates of COVID are free to travel down, possibly bringing the virus with them.
We feel it’s important to reiterate the sentiments from our article on public shaming here because a burning torches and pitchforks war between locals and tourists isn’t going to do anyone any good. However, with some police warning that the government’s new guidelines on travel are effectively unenforceable, we’ve no doubt some in the community will feel duty-bound to encourage tourists to stay away.
We hope that people will reward the government’s faith in them by continuing to carefully weigh up their actions against all available evidence and personal circumstances and proceed sensibly.
Update 12/05: Responding to a question in the house of commons, The Prime Minister stated that:
“We don’t want to see people – let me repeat – we don’t want to see people travelling to another home for a holiday or a second home.”
“That is not what this is about. This is about allowing people the pleasure and exercise of going to national parks and places of outstanding natural beauty and taking advantage of the open air.”
Cover photo: @lugarts