Photo: Devon and Cornwall Specials RPT (@SC_RPU)
On Thursday residents of England found out what tier their part of the country was to be placed in from December 2 as the Government unveiled its latest tactic in the war on coronavirus. Devon and Cornwall Police found itself in the unusual situation of having one part of the force in tier two (Devon) and another (Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly) in tier one.
This means west of the Tamar residents and visitors have fewer restrictions on their movements than they do to the east. A full list of the rules can be found on my website and anyone with a specific query should check the force’s very helpful Covid-19 question and answer section, which is regularly updated as more queries are made and solutions found.
I am really pleased that the entire force area has avoided the most stringent restrictions of tier three. This means that from Wednesday a lot of businesses, such as restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops, that were closed at the start of last week have been able to open up at what is a critical time of year for them.
Avoiding tier three is better for our local economy has avoided some of the risk to people’s livelihoods that is unfortunately being felt elsewhere in the UK, where coronavirus infection rates are higher.
I am concerned, however, about the impact of tier two regulations on Devon’s hospitality trade. Restaurants can reopen in tier two, as can pubs when trading as restaurants, but there is no doubt that this sector, which thrives in normal circumstances and is part of the reason our part of the country attracts so many repeat visitors, is struggling.
The hospitality industry employs one in 10 people in coastal towns and is worth around £6bn to the South West economy, according to a Government report on the industry. But more than that, some pubs provide vital community hubs and a social structure that is important to many.
Fortunately there has been a plethora of support packages for businesses whose activities have been curtailed by the response to the pandemic. I sincerely hope that it is enough to tide over those traders whose enterprises are otherwise viable in normal times.
Of course, the split between the two counties throws up some interesting challenges for Devon and Cornwall Police. Those living in a tier two area should limit journeys where possible and if they must travel to a tier one area they should observe tier two regulations when they do so.
Devon residents should not, therefore, think that they can pop over the Tamar Bridge to enjoy the more relaxed hospitality offerings that Cornish pubs can provide.
And I will be urging those from tier three areas who are planning festive break to the Westcountry to think again. Unless they can justify the trip as bringing together a support bubble - for example, students returning to the family home - they really should not be risking a rise in the infection rate by coming here in the current situation. Of course, Devon and Cornwall residents are famous for their hospitality and when there is a change that allows for safe movement between us and the rest of the country we will once again welcome them with open arms.
Of course the ability to enforce the regulations is important, and when advice on sticking to the rules has not been heeded Devon and Cornwall Police officers have issued fixed penalty notices.
At the start of the first lockdown our police issued more of these than nearly any of the other 43 in England and Wales. They also took firm action a fortnight ago when a small group of protestors overstepped the mark, put others at risk and refused to comply with the rules.
As with much of the fight against this terrible disease, a lot will depend on people’s ability to exercise common sense. Will police officers be stop-checking every car on the border between Devon and Cornwall, asking for proof of where its occupants have come from? Of course not. For the most part the people of this country has behaved brilliantly throughout this pandemic and with the welfare of others placed at the fore. We will be relying on people to do that for a little while longer while the final stages of vaccination are sorted out.
Until then I’d urge you to look after one another, remember the simple ‘hands, face, space’ mantra and by working together we may see a further easing of restrictions after the review in a couple of weeks’ time.
If we work together Devon could well be joining Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in tier one. That’s an early Christmas present that would be welcomed by me and many of our businesses and residents.