Opening the countryside could create division amongst local people depending on how its done. I have set out below a strategy for a staged and, I believe, safe way of opening the countryside .
At the present time (in lock down) visiting the countryside is off limits for anyone unless they live there. Even for those who live in the countryside there is little or no leeway to travel by car anywhere to walk (or cycle or run). If you live somewhere nice that is fine, if you do not and walking from the door is not much fun it is a necessary evil.
However the time has undoubtedly come to consider how best to allow more people to visit the outdoors. This needs to take in the concerns of the local population but also the benefits of the wider community, both locals who are involved in businesses and those wishing to travel to ‘the better outdoors’.
I believe it is important that the countryside is opened up to as many people as is reasonable as a priority. There are a number of reasons for this, I have prioritised them.
However there are strong and passionate arguments not to open up our outdoors. In particular the population tends to be older and more vulnerable to the disease, putting a strain on local services. In addition a proportion of visitors do ‘lose their sanity’ when arriving in a holiday place and act inappropriately. They also tend to turn up at the same places (Malham, Snowdon, Whitby ie: the honeypots) leaving the majority of the countryside empty. Finally they drive creating an increased likelihood of accidents.
To address these issues. The older and vulnerable are liable to be asked to stay indoors longer than the rest of us. This was planned at the start of the outbreak (three months, taking us to nearly the end of June) and may well be extended further. Therefore the most vulnerable in rural areas are indoors and away from the visitors. Those locals who are out and about just need to avoid the visitors, however annoying many find them. Local businesses may see an influx of visitors somewhat differently.
Whilst reading the plan below always bear in mind it is less easy to catch the disease outdoors than indoors. It tries to find a balance in addressing the needs of the wider population with local concerns.
This is my ‘Stage 1’ advice, the purpose being to open up some businesses at the least risk. It could be achieved during May.
My ‘Stage 2’ advice starts by opening up hotels/guest houses which is a major step in getting the rural economy back on its feet. Social distancing and correct hygiene would need to be practiced. As an example imagine visiting a pub for a meal/drink. There will need to be bigger gaps between tables that exist in many places at the moment, plenty of hygiene points and a sensible approach for any ordering at the bar.
Small guest houses may need to offer evening meals for a while if capacity is limited in pubs. There are opportunities and many businesses will have to do things differently (at least for the time being)
Larger rural hotels, holiday parks etc should be included if they are able to meet the social distancing guidelines. Some communal areas in larger premises (such as indoor swimming pools) may have to wait longer.
Stage 1 could be implemented shortly, it is impossible to put a timescale on to Stage 2 but it is very important that the advice/rules are in place well before any opening. The biggest problem will be uncertainty and friction.
One of the biggest issues when returning to the countryside will be the conflict between different people with differing perspectives on the crisis. Some want a quick end to lock down, other want it to continue. I can only hope conflicts are limited but it is naive to assume there will not be any. It is inevitable that opening up the countryside will see an increase in covid 19 but it can be managed. The alternatives of a continued shut down are horrific for the future.
To give examples of the two stages in practice I will use examples from my own business.
The biggest issue is to get a clear and concise plan out in the public domain which is well communicated. Sadly there will be idiots on both sides of the debate creating media headlines (who will lap it up) but the silent majority will react to clear guidelines. The importance of opening up the countryside outweighs the petty squabbles.
Finally just consider the photos on this page and ask yourself to consider the risks against the rewards.
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