James Heappey Column

After almost eight weeks of strict lockdown measures, it will be a relief for the vast majority of us that we are now able to enjoy a little more freedom in our daily lives and that, providing we continue to control the virus, even further changes are due over the coming weeks. However, I recognise that for some – particularly those who are most vulnerable to the virus – any relaxation of the lockdown measures will cause anxiety.

It is important, therefore, to reassure people that allowing greater access to outdoor spaces like parks and beaches is based on the understanding that the risk of transmission outdoors – and providing social distancing is observed with those outside your household - will not increase the rate of infection.

I appreciate that for many in Burnham-on-Sea and along the Somerset Coast there will be particularly acute anxiety. We are the traditional beaches for the West Midlands where there has been a far higher level of infection than we’ve experienced here. Fears that thousands will drive down from the Midlands for a day on the beach are understandable and I have heard from many constituents who would prefer that they were not allowed to come.

Yet at some point we are going to need to relax the lockdown and to attempt to recover some normality. In doing that, I’m not sure we can ban people from some parts of the country from visiting others. We can, however, make sure that by keeping public conveniences, hotels and caravan parks, entertainment venues and non-essential retail closed, there really isn’t much point, nor fun, for people driving for hours to come and enjoy our wonderful beaches.

We’ll all be keeping our eyes nervously on the M5 but my every instinct is that whilst the beaches will be busy, we’ll see people coming from elsewhere in Avon and Somerset rather than from elsewhere in the country for as long as our visitor economy isn’t open for business. As the infection rate falls further, perhaps we’ll be able to let some of those things re-open too and allow our tourism industry to start its recovery but that must be based on the knowledge that the virus is even further in retreat and we’re not at that point yet.

The Prime Minister was clear that this is a process which can go in both directions and whilst he is enthusiastic to relax the restrictions where the science allows, he also will not hesitate to reimpose these restrictions if the evidence shows it’s necessary.

I am afraid there is no escaping that we still have a long way to go in our battle against Covid-19. But if we can all use our common sense, be alert to how the virus could spread and how our actions may contribute to that, we can between us control the virus and save lives whilst allowing our nation’s economy to start its recovery.