Last Friday, Kevin Boorman, manager of 1066 Country Marketing at Hastings Borough Council, issued a press release telling “visitors” they are not welcome here during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Don’t make unnecessary journeys… All of our attractions are closed. And although the forecast is great for this weekend, and is looking good for Easter too, we are asking people to stay away from our beaches and our countryside.”

On the same day, Rother District Council closed off three car parks serving the beach at Camber Sands. “The advice from Government is very clear – do not travel to exercise and do not gather in large groups” was the message from the council’s Environmental Health office. “Please take the Government advice seriously. You will not be able to park and, by visiting the beach, you are putting other people at risk.
Do not travel to Camber”.

These injunctions were generally respected over last weekend. Camber beach was virtually deserted. Hastings seafront was that of a ghost town yesterday afternoon, with just a smattering of takeaway fish-and-chip shops plying desultory trade. No drones overhead, no noticeable police presence, the ancillary road network largely empty of traffic. And just to counterpoint the social and economic shutdown, glorious spring sunshine from a cloudless sky. 

Sussex police posted a subsequent Facebook comment: “Thanks to everyone who took the advice to stay home, stay local and keep social distancing.” However, they also warned: “There are those that continue to flout advice, meeting friends, hosting parties, picnicking and sunbathing away from home. These people are in a small minority and our officers will continue to encourage people to do the right thing, but we are taking action if necessary.”

Social media responses have been generally supportive of these local government and police imperatives, indeed digital pages are stocked with the complaints of people who have spotted other people looking like they might be failing to comply and demanding tighter police enforcement – though whether the attitudes of those who post on a police Facebook page are representative of the general population may be open to question. 

Nevertheless, a headline precept issued on Saturday that “driving to and from home for exercising or walking your dog is non-essential” coupled with a demand that those going out “walk the beat close to home to reduce the risks inherent in travelling around” has raised some resistance. It is obvious that walking urban streets or parks involves closer social contact than doing it in the countryside. As for driving there, it is bizarre to suggest that this might create unacceptable risks, when any A & E practitioner will confirm that most accidental injuries occur at home.

Interviewed on the Today radio programme yesterday (Monday) morning Communities secretary Robert Jenrick admitted that public confidence could be lost by people in power with ample space telling those in crowded homes not to use parks or open spaces.  And the  Labour party’s new deputy leader Angela Rayner challenged the acceptability of  “people who have got big houses and huge back gardens” telling people not to sunbathe in public despite observing social distancing.

The days leading up to Easter promise to combine increasingly warm spring sunshine with a third week of unrelenting lockdown. There’s no knowing right now how the virus pandemic is going to play out: neither government ministers nor their scientific guides seem willing to propose any exit strategy. However, the consequences of their huge social and economic experiment – keeping us behind closed doors  – are equally untested. 

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