English national parks ask people not to rush back to beauty spots

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National park authorities in England are telling people not to “rush back”, amid fears rural communities living inside the beauty spots could be overrun by visitors.

People should “stay local” and think twice before driving to parks, despite lockdown restrictions easing in England, said Kevin Bishop, the national parks officer and chief executive of Dartmoor national park. “We want people to be responsible and respectful. It’s a living, working landscape. How would you feel if you suddenly had lots of visitors suddenly descend on your home?”

From Wednesday, people in England can drive to outdoor spaces, irrespective of distance, as part of the government’s relaxation of lockdown measures. Bishop is concerned that local services in national parks – home to 327,000 people – could be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of visitors.

Quick guide Will there be a second wave of coronavirus?
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Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics.

How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.

Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back elsewhere?

This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.

Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.

Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.

What are experts worried about?

Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.

The threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.

In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry right now is that with a vaccine still months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.

Peter Beaumont

This could lead to a repeat of what happened in Snowdonia at the end of March when authorities said it had been the busiest visitor weekend in living memory. Bishop said: “We’re desperate to do everything we can to avoid a repeat of the images we saw of Snowdonia. That’s what we’re working to do at the moment through the steps we’re taking and messages we’re giving to people.”

Park authorities wanted a phased reopening of the countryside but the government’s announcement means England’s national parks are “playing catch-up” and will work as quickly as possible to open car parks and toilets before reopening other facilities.

Local communities are concerned visitors will spread the virus, with farmers worried about contamination from people opening and shutting gates. Bishop is encouraging people to stay out of settlements for the moment: “We wanted to be able to welcome people back to our towns and villages to get the footfall to aid our businesses but we don’t feel now is the time to do that. Those shops that are open have limited supply and are supplying our local community, and that needs to be the top priority.”

It follows warnings from police in the Lake District that people should “take a long hard look at your own conscience” before travelling to the national park.

The chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, James Mason, said: “In March we asked people to stay away from our many beauty spots (coastline and countryside) to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We welcome the road map to recovery but with caution. Please respect that these communities are not yet able to cope with tourism.”

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Welsh national park authorities welcomed Welsh government guidance for people to stay at home and told people not to visit national parks. Popular rural spots such as Snowdon and the Pembrokeshire coastal path will remain closed and people from England have been told not to cross the border to go walking on Welsh hillsides and coastlines.

Emyr Williams, the chief executive of Snowdonia national park, said: “These measures in Wales mean that people cannot drive to exercise in Wales – no matter where they live – and there will continue to be no parking or access to the most popular sites in the Welsh national parks.”

Lockdown restrictions have also been extended in Scotland and people should still not be driving to take exercise. A spokesperson from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park said: “The vast majority of people have done what’s been asked of them: they’ve stuck to the ‘stay at home’ guidance and have stayed local for exercise. We certainly hope that will continue to be the case.”

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