Coronavirus lockdown in Lake District 'fraying at the edges'

Risk of second wave in north-west as government source says towns could face specific lockdowns

Towns or regions could face specific lockdowns if local coronavirus spikes are detected, government sources have said, amid warnings of a second peak in the north-west of England.

The government had repeatedly said it did not favour the idea of different geographical regions coming out of lockdown at different times. However, it is considering whether regional clampdowns could have a role at the “test, track and trace” stage, when the UK will be more equipped to suppress any new hotspots where they arise.

The news comes as Cumbria’s director of public health said the lockdown in the Lake District was “fraying at the edges” and risked a second wave of infections in the region. Figures released on Sunday showed that more people were in hospital with Covid-19 in the north-west of England than in London.

Colin Cox said this weekend in the Lake District had been challenging, with an increasing number of people flouting lockdown rules to go camping or to visit second homes.

“We’ve had people turning up on day trips, looking to go out wild camping, find places to have little barbecues,” he said, claiming many had been fined and turned away by police and park rangers. “It was a slow return to people doing what they want to do rather than taking the advice to stay at home.”

One government source said regional spikes could lead to the return of physical distancing restrictions on a local basis. “If you were to see worrying transmissions in regions then you would want to move quickly,” the source said.

That warning was echoed by Nicola Sturgeon who said that in Scotland people could find themselves repeatedly returning to more stringent conditions.


The Scottish first minister said: “You might go back to work for a week and be contacted again, and told actually someone else has got it. It is not impossible that all of us will find ourselves being contacted and told to isolate perhaps on multiple occasions.”

Local leaders in the north-west of England have said local lockdowns could have a disastrous effect on the regional economy.

Dominic Harrison,the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen, which has so far had a relatively low number of Covid-19 deaths, said he would strongly oppose any move to differentiate by region to allow restrictions to be relaxed on a local level.

“I understand why people are calling for that but I would prefer us to take decisions at a national level,” he said. “I think practically, because of a way society works and our increasing mobility – even though that’s restricted at the moment – if you held down one area and let another area have much more freedom if they had a lower infection rate, all you will do is bring the lower infection rate up to the national average.”

He would not support Blackburn residents gaining more freedom than those of worse affected areas, he said. “Because then I would be saying I am willing to have a bigger percentage of my population infected than would otherwise have been the case,” he said. “I think that’s a national, collective decision we need to make.”

Cumbria experienced an earlier peak in cases than most of the rest of the country, which, according to Cox, was caused almost exclusively by people returning from skiing holidays in Italy. The county now has just 186 people in hospital with coronavirus out of a total of 2,191 across the north-west. As of Friday, 245 people in the county had died from the virus.

In total, the north-west has recorded 20,125 confirmed cases at a rate of 275 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 24,828 in London and 278 per 100,000.

Cox said he feared infections would easily rise if people began to get complacent. “The challenge now is that it feels like the general public are starting to feel like if we’re passed the peak then we can start to come out of lockdown,” he said. “Lockdown feels like it is fraying at the edges at the least. We’ve had a rather challenging weekend with people wanting to turn up in the Lake District and get back to business as usual. The real risk for us now is we start to see cases rising again. Preventing the second peak is going to be the next big challenge.”

Cumbria police would not say how many people they had fined for making unnecessary trips to the county over the weekend, but the force’s Facebook page has been inundated with complaints from residents reporting lockdown violations. Some said they had noticed an increase in traffic on entry routes into the national park in the middle of the night, speculating it was caused by second home owners “sneaking” to their Lakeland properties. One man said he had called police on Sunday after spotting people camping by Coniston Water.

Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale in south Cumbria, said he had noticed an increase in vehicles on the roads at the weekend, and heard reports of people visiting second homes. “The government is making a PR blunder over the lockdown. Planning for it is 100% necessary. Talking about it is really stupid because it encourages people to think it’s imminent and think it’s nearly all over,” he said. “People need to understand that people are still dying.”


Helen Pidd, Rowena Mason and Severin Carrell

The GuardianTramp

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