Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Newspaper column 27 May 2020 - Covid update 10

As we enter our ninth week in the Coronavirus lockdown, we can begin to see a glimmer of hope that we are on the road out.

I am very much aware of the genuinely held concerns of many local people that we need to tread carefully as we ease the restrictions. Having worked so hard to contain and push back the virus in Cornwall, we are of course concerned that we do not unnecessarily risk another outbreak. The small and measured steps to relax the lockdown have of course been welcomed as we have been able to enjoy getting out more, but of course we are also aware of the risks.

There has been much concern about the number of people who may now be coming to Cornwall from elsewhere in the country. While there have been reports of some people defying the restrictions and coming to Cornwall to stay overnight in their 2nd homes or campervans, I do think we need to keep a sense of perspective.

Our local Police have been proactive in investigating reports of overnight stays and have issued fines and sent people on their way where breaches have been found. But it has actually been a relatively low number and the vast majority of those who have been out enjoying the beach and other open spaces have been local people. We do all need to make sure we do not fall into the trap of believing that everyone driving a campervan or enjoying the beach has travelled hundreds of miles to be here. It has been particularly disappointing to hear reports of local people receiving abuse and damage done to vehicles because they were wrongly believed to be visitors.

The A30 has been quiet all weekend. And apart from a spike last Wednesday, which saw the first real beach day weather since the rules were relaxed, the beaches have been relatively quiet. All the evidence I can see is that with a small number of exceptions, of selfish and irresponsible people who have travelled here to stay, it is local people who have been out and about and behaving responsibly. 
The sad news of one of the country’s major staycation travel firms, Shearings, going into administration is a poignant reminder of the impact this crisis is having on our biggest economic sector. This firm used to bring thousands of visitors to this part of Cornwall every year. The closure of two of our local hotels and the resultant loss of hundreds of local jobs reminds us that the cost of this virus will not just be in health but will also be economic. It is of course absolutely right that protecting lives will always be the priority. Nothing is more important than making sure we all, especially our most vulnerable, are not exposed to the threat this virus brings. But we should also all be aware of the hardship and suffering that is likely to lie ahead as our region that is so dependant on tourism seeks to recover.

This week I received some national data that showed of all the constituencies in the country, ours in St Austell and Newquay, had more tourists staying overnight in a typical year than any of the other 649. I am rightly proud of our place in the tourist economy and all the local businesses who play their part in this success. But the downside of this means that we have the most to lose from this crisis.

I have been as robust as anyone in making clear that now is not the time for tourists to come to Cornwall. I have been on national broadcast media and in the national papers making clear we are not yet ready to welcome tourists. But this situation will have to change at some point. As we continue to make progress in our fight against the Coronavirus the point will be reached when hospitality outlets and some accommodation providers will be allowed to open. This will only be done when the data and expert advice says it is safe and appropriate to do so, and will be done in a gradual and measured way. The government have stated that the earliest this is likely to begin is 4th July and it will of course be dependent on there being no signs of a further outbreak.

But this point will come. And it is important that we are prepared for it. Both practically in ensuring our local businesses are ready to welcome those who may come. But also, mentally and emotionally. I do believe that all of us who live here need to guard against building up an attitude that tourist are the enemy. Our economy relies on people coming here on holiday more than any constituency in the country and when the time is right, only when the time is right, we need to be ready to welcome them.