Oi! Northerners! Stay away! Contrasting stories from Torquay and Woolacombe

Devon holiday home provider refuses Barnsley booking

Ed Oldfield, local democracy reporter and Radio Exe News www.radioexe.co.uk

A holiday let owner in Devon has warned others to beware of bookings from people in areas facing the toughest coronavirus measures.

They posted a message on Facebook reporting an inquiry from a visitor who lives in Barnsley in South Yorkshire.

It is one of the areas about to go into the tier three category at the weekend under the new coronavirus alert system.

The accommodation owner received a call in response to a listing on the Airbnb website for a double room in Torbay. The caller wanted to book a weekend stay from Friday night. When the owner asked where the caller was from and was told Barnsley, the booking was refused.

The caller then protested that the alert status did not start until after midnight on Friday night, so it should be accepted. But the owner stood by her decision, posted a warning on a Facebook page, and contacted the Local Democracy Reporting Service, run by the BBC and in which Radio Exe is a partner, to highlight the issue.

The ‘very high’ alert rules which will apply in South Yorkshire include residents being told to avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK.

Torbay, along with the rest of Devon and the South West region, is in the tier one ‘medium risk’ category.

The seven-day infection rate for covid-19 in Barnsley was reported on Tuesday as 335 per 100,000 population and rising. In the Exeter University and Pennsylvania areas on 10 October it was 322 cases per 100,000, but that has since dropped to 88.

The local council in Barnsley said around 875 people were being infected in the town every week, with around a quarter of them aged 60 and over.

Barnsley is one of several areas of South Yorkshire due to go into very high alert status from Saturday, along with Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. Other areas of the country including Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire are already in the highest category.

In Torbay, the seven-day average on October 17 was 76 cases per 100,000, just below the regional average and less than half the England rate of 169.

People in High alert areas including London, parts of the Midlands and the North East, are still allowed to travel, and an influx of visitors to Devon is expected during half-term next week.

Some comments on the post on the Spotted Torquay Facebook page praised the decision to to refuse the booking.  One said: “They should not be allowed to bring a killer virus to Torbay.”

Others warned that it was inevitable that people from higher risk areas would be visiting Devon.  One pointed out people needed the money from holiday lets and another said visitors should be encouraged to protect the economy. One commenter pointed out it was difficult for businesses to filter bookings if people did not say where they were from.

Torbay’s director of public health Caroline Dimond has said there are concerns about visitors from areas with a higher rate of infection, but so far Torbay has not seen a major problem from imported cases. She said it was important visitors followed the hygiene measures in place.

Dr Dimond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: “We would very much encourage people to make sure they were following all the guidance and remember even if they do come to Torbay we still have cases. 

Meanwhile up in Woolacombe:

‘Crazy, isn’t it?’ Devon resort reports no shortage of visitors

Steven Morris www.theguardian.com 

A bright, breezy day in north Devon. Hundreds of people are taking bracing walks along Woolacombe beach. The pubs, cafes, fast-food outlets and surf shops are doing excellent business.

“Actually we’ve had an amazing season,” said Roger Ashford, whose B&B, the Imperial, enjoys stunning views of the surf. “It’s never been so busy here. There are a couple of hundred people out there walking on the beach now, it’s unreal.”

Ashford, like most of the hospitality businesses in the village, has reduced his capacity to meet Covid restrictions. But over this autumn half-term his B&B is as full as it can be. “We could fill up twice over easily. People are desperate to get away. Crazy, isn’t it?”

Places like Woolacombe are expecting a late-season boost this half-term. But it does come with the risk that visitors could bring the virus into spots that have so far largely escaped.

Over at the Red Barn pub in Woolacombe, Roger’s cousin, Angus Ashford, said he knew people from tier 2 areas who were already in the village and that more were bound to come at half-term.

The pub has worked hard to keep its visitors and staff safe. “But there is a risk,” he said. “Visitors come here from Birmingham, Bristol, London. If you get some waves and some sunshine, people will come if there is no travel ban.”

During half-term more than 1,000 families are booked into the four holiday centres run by Woolacombe Bay Holiday Parks.

Kevin Darvill, the sales and marketing manager, said the different travel restrictions across England and Wales were making life difficult. The holiday parks have, with huge regret, had to stop people coming from Welsh lockdown areas where people are not allowed by law to leave without good reason.

But it has been trickier to tell people from areas of high infection in England not to come because the UK government has not imposed the same firm ban. “English customers are bamboozled and we’re bamboozled too,” he said.

Andrew Baragwanath, the national chairman of the British Holiday and Home Parks Association and a partner in the Ayr Holiday Park in St Ives, Cornwall, said he was sure people from high-risk areas continued to come to the south-west. He said a holiday business owner could not be expected to be a “tourism policeman”.

The presence of lifeguards on some Cornish beaches until the end of October shows the holiday season is very much still on.

Councillor Rob Nolan, a member of Cornwall council’s cabinet and the owner of a B&B in Truro, said the message there was that the county remained open.

Nolan conceded that some people were anxious at the prospect of people arriving from areas of high Covid prevalence and a few probably liked the idea of closing the border.

“Cornwall is open but anxious,” he said. “We want people who come down to be sensible. Book ahead and don’t come if you have symptoms. Wear a mask, be prepared to sanitise.”

Other areas across England are taking the same approach. The Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, who represents the Cumbrian constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, said visitors would still travel to the Lake District over half-term.

“I think that so long as people are compliant with the rules and respectful of local communities, people are happy for visitors to come,” he said.

The ban coming into force in Wales on Friday evening to stop people travelling into the country from hotspots in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is a blow to holiday businesses there. The prospect of a circuit-breaker lockdown for the whole country is also deeply troubling for holiday businesses.

On Friday MWT Cymru, which represents 600 tourism businesses in mid Wales, was still making the point on its website that its region is still open. Its chairman, Rowland Rees-Evans, said people had worked tirelessly to keep the sector going this summer and autumn but business owners felt very worried now.

“The region has one of the lowest Covid-19 rates in the UK, which is a reflection on who we are in mid-Wales, the way our visitors, communities and businesses have all pulled together to protect our fragile economy whilst keeping everyone safe.”

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers expressed concern that the Scottish government could follow the Welsh administration and impose a travel ban. Its chief executive, Fiona Campbell, said: “The unwarranted restrictions already imposed on Scottish self-catering have had a severely negative impact on our sector.

“Across our £723m industry, we’ve seen scores of bookings cancelled resulting in many self-catering operators facing uncertain futures with some even taking the ultimate decision of closing down completely.

“To hear that the first minister and her government are now entertaining the idea of imposing a travel ban further adds to the fear and uncertainty spreading throughout our sector and across Scottish tourism more generally.”