Police in the Lake District have urged people to “take a long hard look at your own conscience” and stay away from the national park – despite the prime minister telling people they can drive to beauty spots for exercise in England from Wednesday.
Parts of Cumbria have the highest coronavirus infection rates in the UK, prompting fears that the relaxation of lockdown will lead to a further spike.
Across the country on Monday morning, officials in other tourist destinations were frantically discussing how to interpret Boris Johnson’s easing of lockdown measures while keeping local populations safe.
In the early hours of Monday morning South Lakes police tweeted a map showing infection rates in the county, saying: “Before considering travelling to #Cumbria #LakeDistrict please grab a brew, examine this map, and take a long hard look at your own conscience. We urge you to use common sense and to continue to exercise close to your own home. We need to break the cycle of infection #lockdown.”
Cumbria police issued more than 100 fines over the bank holiday weekend to people making non-essential journeys, according to its assistant chief constable, Andrew Slattery. “That’s double the amount we’ve issued over the entire rest of the lockdown,” he said, blaming newspaper headlines for “giving the impression lockdown was over”.
Hotels, campsites, cafes, pubs and public toilets will remain closed for the foreseeable future, said Slattery. “Just attracting people to the Lake District with no facilities isn’t going to benefit the economy at all and in fact it might set it back.”
He added: “If people come en masse to the Lake District next weekend it will make social distancing very difficult if they congregate in the same car parks, go on the same busy footpaths in the honeypot areas.”
Tony Watson, the head of communications at the Lake District national park, tweeted: “Before travelling to the #lakedistrict, please be kind and consider our rural communities. There have been four times the deaths in Cumbria than in the whole of Australia. Just because you technically can come, doesn’t mean you should.”
Richard Leafe, national park authority’s chief executive, said: “Following the government’s announcement that people will be able to travel for exercise from Wednesday, we know that many will be keen to visit the Lake District. This is understandable for the many physical and mental health benefits the national park provides. However, sadly Cumbria currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the UK, therefore keeping our staff and local communities safe must remain our priority.
“For example, our mountain rescue teams are made up of volunteers, many of whom work in the NHS and other frontline professions, so we cannot afford to put unnecessary pressure on them. So for now, we’re asking people not to rush back to the Lake District. Help protect our communities – the fells will still be here when this passes.”
The latest figures show Barrow-in-Furness in west Cumbria has the highest infection rate in England, with 804 cases per 100,000 people. Lancaster is second with 513 and South Lakeland third with 482.
But Aaron Cummins,the chief executive of Morecambe Bay NHS trust, which covers Barrow and South Lakeland, said the figures should be viewed with caution.
“As a trust, we have been testing our colleagues and their family members, local care home staff and other key workers for a significant amount of time and in large numbers. It is important that these figures are viewed in this context,” he said.
Colin Cox, the director of public health for Cumbria, said the new guidance would “go down like a lead balloon” in the region. “Cumbria is a beautiful place and we are usually very welcoming of visitors, but this does feel like a difficult time for us to be accepting more visitors coming in. Our infection rates are still quite high and inevitably there are going to be some tensions created by this.”
Cox said he would have liked the travel restrictions to remain in place until there was “a robust contract tracing system” in place. “I would have preferred to have had a few weeks of the contract tracing system under my belt before we released the lockdown quite as much as we have,” he said.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for the South Lakeland constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, has written an open letter to the prime minister asking him to limit the number of miles people can drive for exercise “to help prevent the inevitable high influx of people travelling to the Lakes, the Dales and south Cumbria”.
Farron told Johnson: “With there being no changes to the guidance issued by the Welsh government, Snowdonia will still be off limits for people living in Manchester and Liverpool meaning that we are likely to see an even higher number of visitors descending to the Lake District than we otherwise would have done.”
In his address to the nation on Sunday night, Johnson said: “From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”