English Tourist Spots On Alert For ‘Weekend Mayhem’ After Lockdown Rules Change

From overstretched mountain rescue teams to an elderly population, those in the Lake District and Blackpool are desperate for tourists to stay away.

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Government advice telling people they can travel to “outdoor open space irrespective of distance” has been labelled as “reckless” amid fears it will lead to places like the Lake District and Blackpool being swamped with visitors.

Prime minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Sunday and raised eyebrows when he told people in England that, from Wednesday, they could drive anywhere they liked within England for exercise.

That coronavirus lockdown easing advice has now been reiterated in a 51-page official government confirming what people can and can’t do. Under the question: “Are there restrictions on how far I can travel for my exercise or outdoor activity?”, the answer states: “No. You can travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance.”

The surprise move – which is contrary to that in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where the Stay At Home slogan and insistence on only local exercise remain – has led to widespread condemnation, particularly from beauty spots and tourist destinations where people fear the easing of lockdown will lead to a spike in cases.

Windermere, Lake District United Kingdom
Windermere, Lake District United Kingdom
danaibe12 via Getty Images

Professor John Ashton, former north west regional director of public health told HuffPost UK the decision was reckless and could have deeply damaging consequences, particularly in places like Cumbria which have some of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the UK.

Latest figures show there are 2,115 coronavirus cases in Cumbria – which is 424 cases per 100,000 of the population.

“People will now drive to the Lake District and the concern is they will congregate around honeypot areas such as Grasmere, Ambleside and Windermere rather than going walking with their family away from the beaten track,” said Ashton.

“This advice is very reckless and unwise and it is going to lead to the motorway being chock-a-block and you can only imagine what it will be like in car parks.

“This is an ill thought-out and unhelpful decision and the consequences could be severe.”

“This is not about science – this is making it up as you go along. I hope it doesn’t lead to a weekend of mayhem.”

- Professor John Ashton

Ashton said this week was not the right time to be easing off on restrictions.

He said: “In Cumbria and Lancashire, infection rates of coronavirus are a lot higher.

“If people start moving around and travelling to different areas, it is going to mix the virus back up again and reignite the spread of it.”

He pointed to problems with the UK receiving sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.

“When you consider all the talk about following the science, this is not about science,” he said. “This is making it up as you go along.

“I hope it doesn’t lead to a weekend of mayhem, but it means that those who have got transport will now have that freedom to roam.”

Professor John Ashton, former North West regional director of public health
Professor John Ashton, former North West regional director of public health
John Ashton

Ashton said the move also undermines the idea that “we are all in this together.”

“Everyone has been pulling together but this move will erode that and undermine social solidarity,” he said.

“People who don’t have personal transport won’t be able to go anywhere while those who are stuck in high-rise flats will continue to be stuck there.”

The government decision to allow people to travel as far as they want for exercise in open spaces has angered former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who says he will be fighting for the guidance to be changed to protect communities in the Lake District.

He told HuffPost UK Cumbria Police had issued more than 100 fines to people over the bank holiday weekend for making non-essential journeys and that it is now “simply inevitable” that this new guidance will see a huge influx of people visiting the Lake District.

Farron is particularly alarmed as the South Lakeland area has the third highest rate of coronavirus infections in the country per head of population.

“This has caused major concern and anxiety for local people, especially as we have the third highest rate of Covid-19 infections here in South Lakeland,” he said.

“With hundreds of people sadly dying from the disease every single day, now is not the time for a surge in people from outside of Cumbria to visit the Lakes – we will simply not be able to cope.

“That’s why it’s critical that the government urgently reviews its guidelines to introduce a maximum limit of miles people can travel for exercise.

“The prime minister spoke to the people – it’s now time he listened to them, too.”

Farron had written an open letter to Boris Johnson urging him to put a limit on the number of miles people can drive for exercise to prevent an influx of people descending on the Lake District, especially as Snowdonia in Wales remains off limits to those on the English side of the border.

Cumbria Police chiefs are imploring people not to rush back to the Lake District and fells. They tweeted a map showing infection rates and asked people to “take a long hard look at your own conscience”, use common sense and carry on exercising close to home.

Andy Slattery, assistant chief constable of Cumbria Police, told HuffPost UK he was concerned about the safety of visitors and the local population, and about ensuring any increase in people going to the Lake District is managed in line with social distancing.

Tourists tend to congregate to “honeypot” areas of the Lake District, which makes it very difficult for people to socially distance.

“The fear is that we will see a re-emergence of what we saw in the early days of the pandemic when people were in close contact with each other.” he said.

Andy Slattery, assistant chief constable of Cumbria Police
Andy Slattery, assistant chief constable of Cumbria Police
Cumbria Police

Slattery also pointed out that while the new guidance might lead to people flocking to the Lake District, facilities such as shops, cafes, restaurants, public toilets and car parks will remain closed so large numbers of people will find there are no facilities to cater for them.

Slatterly also said there are deep concerns about the prospect of people who need rescuing while walking in the fells and mountains of the Lake District.

“If mountain rescue volunteers are attending accidents on the fells and potentially coming into contact with people with Covid-19,” he told HuffPost UK, “they might have to self isolate and that will take them away from their core medical roles in the community.”

“The Lake District will still be here when it is safe for people to come here and we will gladly welcome them then.”

- Douglas Chalmers, Friends of the Lake District

Douglas Chalmers, chief executive of the Friends of the Lake District charity, said he was “very concerned” people would bring coronavirus with them when travelling to the region.

“Our infrastructure is designed for around half a million people so we could not cope with millions of people descending here,” he added.

“Just for the sake of a bit longer, we would prefer people not to come because of the damage it could do to the local community.

“The Lake District will still be here when it is safe for people to come here and we will gladly welcome them then.”

(AP Photo/Jon Super)
(AP Photo/Jon Super)

In Blackpool, the Visit Blackpool site is the tourism arm of Blackpool Council, showcasing the area as a holiday destination.

It has rebranded itself as DoNotVisitBlackpool on social media.

Alan Cavill, director of tourism and regeneration for Blackpool Council, said: “We welcome the government’s road map towards recovery, but this is not a time to throw caution to the wind and it is definitely not yet a case of business as usual.

“Throughout this pandemic, the safety of our residents is of paramount importance.

“Those who do seek to exercise on the coast should do so responsibly and we strongly urge people to respect the rules around social distancing and mass gatherings.”


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