Coronavirus: Sunseekers ‘could return lockdown to square one’

Owl has been receiving reports that Exmouth beach was heaving with cars and people on Wednesday and Thursday in particular. Car Parks full, many camper vans with occupants making breakfast on the pavements, social distancing difficult etc. This is echoed in the following article from the Times.

Owl regards Tim Spector’s Covid-19 symptom tracker project as the “canary in the cage”. It uses a statistical filter of reported symptoms as a proxy measure of infection.

Its advantages are that it is based on a phone app and is therefore instantaneous; has a national sample size of over 3 million participants; and, most importantly, it is consistent. I.e. will tell us whether infection rates locally are going up or down around a week or two before anything the Government publishes. At the moment they are static. Owl will report soon on exciting new developments with this work.

Fiona Hamilton, Crime Editor | Harry Shukman | Charlotte Wace 

Matt Hancock last night warned [Thursday] of the risk of returning to “square one” of the coronavirus lockdown as police chiefs said people were becoming blase about social distancing.

As thousands took advantage of glorious weather by flocking to beaches and beauty spots around the country, the health secretary called on the public to renew their efforts to stick to the rules. He added: “Let’s not go back to square one. We can all play our part in the national effort.”

His comments at the Downing Street press conference were echoed by senior police who said that the guidance to stay two metres apart, and meet only one other person, was being routinely ignored since the slight easing of the lockdown rules.

One chief constable told The Times: “I think people no longer understand what they can do, or they think it is no longer important.”

Another senior officer said there was “no doubt at all” that public resolve had weakened and that the guidance around meeting one person outside the household was “forgotten shortly after the words were spoken”.

In Newquay, Cornwall, police patrolled caravan sites and woke up visitors in campervans at 6am for breaching lockdown by staying overnight at the tourist hotspot. Councils closed car parks at other beaches around the country when thousands of people arrived to relax in the sunshine.

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s public health director, advised the public to stay away from the Lake District. “I continue to urge people to keep their Lake District plans on hold as we grapple with the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in the county,” he said. “I understand that people may feel their individual visit won’t cause a problem, but when thousands of people have the same idea then that has the potential to create genuine issues.”

The authorities’ fears of a second spike of coronavirus infection have been heightened by the coming bank holiday weekend and forecasts of warm weather.

Half term begins tomorrow, meaning that many families, freed from the constraints of homeschooling, will be tempted outdoors, and to staycations. Ramadan also comes to an end this weekend and Mr Hancock said: “I hope people can enjoy Eid celebrations but I know they’ll be different from usual.”

His intervention came as a new survey revealed that more than half of under thirties are no longer sticking strictly to the lockdown rules.

Researchers who questioned more than 90,000 adults found that “complete” compliance with safety measures has dropped in the past two weeks from an average of 70 per cent of people to under 60 per cent. The University College London (UCL) study found compliance among young adults at less than 50 per cent.

Police have already warned that relaxed lockdown rules are “unenforceable” because people have many more reasons to be out and about. They voiced alarm at the large numbers of people appearing to gather in groups at beauty spots.

Ilfracombe and Braunton police said on Twitter that roads towards the North Devon coast had become “gridlocked”, adding: “We have vehicles from all over the country identified, please do not travel here.”

Southend, which like many seaside towns launched a “don’t visit” campaign, saw hundreds of people descend on its beaches to swim and sunbathe.

Fairy Glen, a popular beauty spot in Lancashire, was closed earlier this week after a flood of people visited over the weekend. Despite the warning, police confirmed that a number of parking fines had been handed to people parking “irresponsibly” and “causing a danger”.

Police have already fined more than 14,000 people for lockdown breaches but enforcement has “fallen off a cliff” since the guidance was eased, sources said.

Katy Bourne, chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said that the public flocking to beaches presented a difficulty for officers because they were not breaching the law.

She said: “There are no powers available to police that stop people from visiting the beach or beauty spots. Going into the lockdown was a shock to our system but coming out was always going to be the challenge.

“The police are only there to uphold the law. They’re not out holding tape measures, that’s not the police’s job to do. The police aren’t there though to enforce social distancing because the law doesn’t allow it. We are asking people to be socially responsible.”

Despite the public’s increasingly blasé attitude towards the lockdown measures, a survey has shown that the spring bank holiday is set to be the quietest on the roads in at least seven years.

A poll conducted by the RAC indicates that 9.4 million leisure journeys will be made by car between Saturday and Monday, compared with 16.8 million over the same period last year.

About 68 per cent of the 1,500 drivers questioned do not expect to drive for recreational purposes this weekend, while 15 per cent said that they did not plan on driving more than ten miles for leisure.

“This weekend will be anything but a traditional sunny bank holiday weekend, and in fact nationally it could turn out to be the quietest on the motorways and major roads ever,” Rod Dennis, a spokesman for the RAC, said. “While it’s true that some car parks in popular locations were quick to fill up last weekend, it was positive to see that many of the fears around people swarming to tourist destinations thankfully didn’t translate into widespread problems.”