Since the health secretary Matt Hancock announced a new tier system to combat the coronavirus pandemic on the 26th November, placing each English county into a specific tier depending on their current coronavirus situation, an atmosphere of dread has submerged the Cornish community.
As one of only three counties placed in the lowest tier, and the only one on mainland England, Cornwall has emerged from lockdown with more relaxed rules than what most other counties have been assigned in the new government guidelines.
Pubs, bars, and restaurants can remain open until 11pm, serving alcohol regularly as they would in pre-COVID times. Outdoor and indoor gatherings are permitted, as long as the rule of six is upheld. Most other counties, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of indoor gatherings, especially as we enter the cold winter months. Entertainment venues such as cinemas and bowling alleys, as well as personal care establishments such as hairdressers and nail salons are all permitted to open.
Looking at the overview, it seems bizarre to suggest that Cornwall is in a bad position, due to the overwhelming perks they have being in the lowest tier, but locals fear that many will take advantage of their loosened restrictions, as many in the country already have by attempting to cross the Welsh border during the English lockdown.
They claim that Cornwall being announced as a tier one area could act like a beacon, attracting people from far and wide. There are fears that holidaymakers planning last-minute Christmas and New Year getaways could bring asymptomatic cases from tier three counties such as Greater Manchester or Bristol. While many hotels are hoping to welcome guests over the festive period, as the tier one status is a positive from a business perspective, the locals fear this may be a grave mistake.
As well as holidaymakers travelling further distances to enjoy the freedom of Cornwall, there may also be an issue much closer to home, specifically in the neighbouring county of Devon. As the only area in England to allow people to consume alcohol without purchasing a substantial meal, locals fear that their pubs will be crowded by those from Devon, deciding to pop over the border for a drink at a nearby pub. Due to capacity restrictions, many locals may find themselves unable to access the slighter freedom afforded to them by their efforts to keep case levels low throughout the pandemic.
The influx of visitors during these unprecedented times would be incredibly problematic for Cornwall, who have already suffered a great deal both during and before the pandemic. The county is already taken advantage of in the summer months, with many people owning holiday homes which are rarely used. This leads to smaller towns struggling to make ends meet, with high street shops closing. Most shops typically found on a Cornish high street are small businesses, family-owned bakeries or independent clothing shops owned by locals, rather than larger chain companies, meaning their income stream relies entirely on regular customers.
The irregular pattern of tourism has led to Cornwall becoming the second-poorest area in Northern Europe, behind the Belgium province of Hainaut. Also, many Cornish regions are among the 10% most deprived areas of the UK, according to Cornwall Live. The occasional flourish of tourism in the summer months, which failed to materialise this year due to stricter lockdown measures across the county, is not enough to boost the economy for the whole year.
As well as the dire economic situation of the county, Cornwall only has one major hospital – the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro – which is still small, with less capacity for patients, in comparison to other major hospitals. Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has approximately 750 beds shared between three hospitals, Royal Cornwall Hospital, West Cornwall Hospital and St. Michael’s Hospital, while Derriford Hospital in Plymouth has over 1000 beds according to a report by Care Quality Commission. The hospital covers the majority of Cornwall, and it can take almost an hour by car (and much longer using public transport) to reach from Penzance or St. Ives, two of the most populated areas of Cornwall.
The hospital did not have sufficient funds, equipment, or staff to deal with the pandemic in the early days and not much has changed. With limited beds for seriously ill patients and most outpatient appointments being postponed or cancelled, they are still struggling. They are lucky to have the pressure relieved by being given a tier one status by the government, but this may not be the case if an influx of visitors arrive in the lead up to Christmas, which is already a difficult time for the NHS without the pandemic.
Once you look past the gorgeous coastlines and the quaint towns of Cornwall and look further into the statistics and the high streets, there is a lot of poverty hiding behind it. This is a side to Cornwall you won’t find in the glossy tourist magazines or the idealised version that you see on Countryfile or Escape to the Country. The NHS staff in Cornwall, as well as the entire local population, are incredibly lucky to have been given a tier one status after the incredible hard work of their key workers and the general public adhering to government guidelines. They all take pride in their careful response to the pandemic and do not want holidaymakers tarnishing this for their festive getaways.
While The Telegraph reported that police have introduced extra patrols – specifically a fleet of ten extra cars – to ensure that people are adhering to tier systems, it remains to be seen how effective these measures will actually be. People could, and will, lie about where they have come from and their reasonings for entering the county, all to get a pint from a small pub.
Businesses, hospitals and local surgeries have had to brace themselves for the second wave of the pandemic and the second peak has definitely been detrimental to them. All they ask is for those in neighbouring or further counties to consider those at risk before planning a last-minute getaway, or a trip to the pub – for failure to do so could lead to tighter restrictions or another lockdown.