New government figures show that the coronavirus R rate could be above 1 for three regions across England as thousands of people are expected to flock to the coast to enjoy hot weather this weekend.
According to data released on Friday, the R value is estimated to range between 0.8 and 1.1 for London, the northwest and the southwest.
Crowded beaches and fishing villages in Cornwall and Devon can cause despair among residents during a normal summer but with a virus added into the mix, the fear and anger at incomers has reached fever pitch.
With fewer options to holiday abroad, a wave of visitors has hit the tourist hotspots of the southwest. Residents, businesses and lifeguards have likened the scenario to an endless bank holiday weekend. While the increase in visitors is helping some businesses, with some takings up 70 per cent on July last year, locals are concerned by the numbers cramming into the narrow streets and country lanes.
“It’s hell,” said Jenny Dean, 58, who has lived in St Ives since 1974.
Banners and signs ask people to “Please Keep To Your Left” along shopping streets but these were ignored by crowds when The Times visited on Thursday. “This is the worst it has ever been,” Mrs Dean said. “I know a lot of locals who aren’t going out. We don’t feel safe.”
The sentiment was repeated by other residents across the counties.
Toni Potter, 59, a gallery assistant who has lived in St Ives for 32 years, said that she did her food shopping in town at 7am “then I don’t go back”. She added: “We do want tourists but this is so extreme.”
Devon has the lowest Covid-19 death rate in England (21.8 deaths per 100,000 people) while Cornwall & Isles of Scilly has the fourth lowest (27.1 per 100,000).
Out of 182 areas in England, Scotland and Wales, Cornwall ranks 175th for infection levels (with 162 cases per 100,000 of the population) and Devon 176th (155 per 100,000). The only places in England with a lower infection rate are Dorset and North East Lincolnshire. Despite local fears, Devon and Cornwall have so far had only a very slight increase in recorded cases at the end of last month, with the daily average rising to three from about two.
Many holidaymakers were enjoying ice creams along the promenade at St Ives on Thursday while pubs and restaurants were doing a brisk trade.
However, Scott Stevens, 48, a construction company owner from Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, visiting with his wife, told The Times: “It’s not a relaxing holiday at all. It’s uncomfortable. You have to book everything three weeks in advance and there are no tables available in the restaurants.”
Tensions between locals and tourists have boiled over on occasions. A man was arrested on suspicion of assault last week for allegedly attacking two lifeboat volunteers in St Ives when they asked a driver parked in a space reserved for them to move his car.
A 14-year-old boy was attacked with a bottle on Perranporth beach, in north Cornwall, last month after asking tourists to pick up the plastic cups they had dropped. Police said that the suspects, who have not been caught, had “London accents”.
In the sailing harbour of Fowey, on the south coast of Cornwall, the pasty shops have been proving popular and the second-home owners have been staying longer.
Justine Hambly, 51, who runs Any Old Lights, an interior design shop, said that visitor numbers were on a par with Regatta Week, adding: “I think people could be more respectful of the rules. I don’t think it’s through unpleasantness, they just come on holiday and go into a completely different mode. People aren’t wearing masks or keeping their distance.”
Holly Lovelock, 21, an assistant at the Seasalt clothes shop, said that the beaches were so “incredibly packed” that she would avoid them until after summer.
As businesses less affected by social distancing make hay while the sun shines, places such as pubs and clothes shops are struggling to recoup income lost in lockdown.
Carol Tambling, landlady of the Lugger pub in Fowey, said: “We can only book so many people in for food. We missed Easter, we are missing Regatta Week and the Christmas market is looking like it will get cancelled.”
Salcombe, on the south coast of Devon, has been disturbed by unprecedented levels of antisocial behaviour and litter.
Jeff Gillard, 42, an ambulance medic, said that the town has resembled a “war zone” of broken glasses and takeaway boxes most mornings. “I wouldn’t say the numbers of people are hugely different, it just seems to be a different type of visitor,” he said. “The middle of Salcombe feels like a bit of a no-go zone from 10pm.”
Anthony Mangnall, the Conservative MP for Totnes, has promised “more police will be on the streets this weekend to deal with antisocial behaviour”.
The beaches of north Cornwall have been the busiest that many RNLI lifeguards can remember, with 14,000 counted at Perranporth in one day last week.
Tommy Job, 30, of the Watering Hole pub on the beach, said that antisocial behaviour had been worse in lockdown: “People were having big parties . . . now things are back to more normal. I think some locals have a chip on their shoulder because they had the place to themselves for a while. It always gets busy, it’s nothing abnormal.”