The opening of the floodgates was no more than a trickle

This was the main beach in Lyme Regis at 3pm this afternoon

Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 59 (Saturday, May 16 2020)

I AM writing this diary entry much later than usual as I left my daily exercise routine to this afternoon so that I could comment on whether the great fears of an invasion by day-trippers as second homers, following the slight relaxation of coronavirus lockdown, were justified.

At 3pm, a peak time for the visiting masses, I counted about 150 people enjoying the beach and sea and I suppose there were a few dozen people taking in the fresh air along the seafront. Everyone seemed to me to be observing social distancing in a responsible manner.

There was definitely more traffic passing through the town and a few take-away establishments were open and serving the occasional customer, but certainly not enough to sustain a profitable business.

Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proclamation last Sunday that people would be able to travel to beauty spots, including beaches, there was a mass outcry on social media, predicting the floodgates would open and Lyme would be choc-a-bloc with visitors, some of whom may have travelled from areas where the virus is far more prevalent than in the South West.

The immoderate language used by some on Facebook was beyond the pale. And one of our more vocal local councillors even went to far to say “we are all doomed”, somewhat tongue in cheek one presumes.

On today’s evidence this was no “opening of the floodgates”, more like a trickle under Buddles bridge.

And so Lyme creeps at a snail’s pace to what we are being told is the “new norm”. Local builders are pretty well back to work and a few more shops will soon be lifting their shutters again.

The big acid test for whether there will be real abuse of Boris Johnson’s step into the unknown will come next week when far larger crowds are expected for the Bank Holiday. They won’t find any pubs, cafes and restaurants open other than for takeaways, but it seems likely local car parks and toilets will be open to meet the expected rush.

With the number of cases and deaths from this contagion declining on a daily basis, the government is under huge pressure to kick-start the economy again and I am aware that great efforts are going on behind the scenes in Lyme Regis to provide as much help as possible for local businesses to continue trading.

Government ministers are stressing at every daily Downing Street briefing that the ‘R’ figure must remain under one for the disease to be seen in decline. ‘R’ is the number of people each infected person passes the virus on to, on average. If it is two, then 10 infected people would pass it onto 20 others. But if is 0.5, then 10 infected people pass it onto five others.

The national figure fell as low as 0.6, giving everyone confidence that we are beating this epidemic. But it has now risen to between 0.7 and 1, dangerously close to the level where the epidemic starts rising rapidly again.

In the South West that ‘R’ will be far lower because we are in the region with fewer deaths than any other in the UK.

In any governmental crisis there is always a fall guy. And it would seem that Health Minister Matt Hancock might be that man. His handling of the PPE debacle brought him under great pressure from NHS bosses and opposition politicians, and he surprised many in his own party when he set a daily target for testing at 100,000 a day when they were barely achieving 10,000.

Although he met that target, gleefully announcing the figure had reached 123,000 by deadline day, it soon slumped again and has only crossed the 100,000 tape on a few occasions, although today it was back to 130,000. Apparently Boris won’t be happy until that figure reaches 250,000.

The storm over PPE and testing was calming down until yesterday when Hancock’s statement that the government had protected care homes from day one was met with incredulity considering the shocking number of people who have lost their lives in these establishments.

This was fodder for those in the care home industry and opposition politicians. At best it was considered to be naïve of Hancock to make such a remark, at and provided more ammunition for members of his own party who, according to last Sunday’s press, are briefing against the Health Minister.

One thing of which you can be sure, when their backs are to the wall the Tories will always turn on each other, “blue on blue”. It’s blighted the party for 40 years or more. One more faux par by Hancock and we may not see him skipping into the No 10 briefing room again.

New controls over improving the standard of care for the elderly are now being introduced, a move to be welcomed but one which many believe should have received greater priority in the government’s fight against coronavirus.

The new battleground is the differing views over whether schools should go back to school soon. Education Minister Gavin Williamson is at the briefing lectern in Downing Street as I write this, explaining how they are going to introduce their plans with calls earlier today that the government and the unions should stop arguing and get the back-to-school campaign moving.

As they strive to keep the nation together to get through such difficult days, our politicians might ponder on this quote from George Bernard Shaw: “Political necessities sometime turn out to be political mistakes.”

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