It comes as figures show that new Coronavirus infections are now growing at a faster pace in these areas compared to London and cities, meaning county areas are particularly vulnerable to a further spike in infections. As a result, many councils are discouraging visitors to their areas, particularly over the coming weekend, concerned over a surge of visitors, as experience the weekend before lockdown.
Below, watch coverage of our calls on BBC’s Breakfast News on Saturday, May 16th.
The County Councils Network, (CCN) which represents 36 county authorities, say ‘day trippers’ coming to exercise from other urban areas could further increase the rate of infection in counties, while also overwhelming car parks at country parks and coastal areas.
From Wednesday, the government’s guidance was updated to allow people unlimited daily exercise, alongside the ability for people to travel unrestricted distances to do so.
However, with more warm weather predicted this weekend, the CCN has warned that its councils fear a surge in exercisers alongside visitors to country parks and picturesque rural and coastal areas.
They have urged residents and visitors not to immediately rush to rural country parks and coastal beaches this weekend to prevent difficulties maintaining social distancing rules and the risk of increased virus transmission.
Overall, positive tests for Coronavirus are lower in county areas, compared to the rest of the country, but the latest data shows that over the past two weeks those county areas have seen a 19.6% increase in new cases, which totals 8,357. This is against a national average of 14.9%. London’s rate of positive tests is now 7.5%, 1,815 new cases. Over that two week period, county areas accounted for over 42% of all new Coronavirus positive tests.
Councils say that they do not want to see a recurrence of the surge of visitors to country parks, beaches and other places of national beauty the weekend before the lockdown was introduced on 23 March.
Residents are also likely to encounter large queues of traffic at parks and difficulties parking in some coastal areas. Instead, they are encouraging people to stay local for exercise for the time being.
In total, over 21 county authorities closed their country parks partially to visitors using cars, or completely during the lockdown. While the remaining 15 councils have kept open their country parks, visitors have been low due to the ‘stay at home’ message and non-essential travel restrictions.
Since Wednesday many councils are now fully re-opening country parks following the government update.
But county leaders say they may have no choice to but to begin shutting country parks if they become too busy and the numbers pose a risk to social distancing guidelines. They also warn that there could be additional costs of littering incurred by taxpayers, as many cafes and toilets will remain closed in re-opened parks and other coastal tourist spots.
Councillor Julian German, County Councils Network rural spokesperson and leader of Cornwall Council, said:
“County areas have some of England’s most glorious coastlines, beautiful rural landscapes and country parks. We know the positive impact exercise has physical and mental health for people, so the majority of councils kept their country parks open, at least partially, and access to beaches.
“We recognise with the easing of restrictions many people will be considering driving long distances to enjoy these areas but for now we are urging the public to think twice. Our coastal and rural areas will be there when this is over – but we are asking households to bear with us and please do their bit over the coming weeks by exercising locally.
“While councils will be allowing cars access to country parks, it does not change the unique situation of the need to maintain social distancing. We must prevent a repeat of the unprecedented numbers of visitors to these parks and coastal areas witnessed the weekend before lockdown was introduced.
“A surge in the number of people poses a risk to everyone’s safety, and the figures show county areas are vulnerable to rises in Coronavirus cases at the moment. Those travelling could do so only to find long queues of traffic, difficulties parking and closed facilities such as toilets and other amenities.”
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