The easing of coronavirus restrictions a fortnight ago has given people some welcome freedoms but sadly, here in Devon and Cornwall, has been accompanied by tragedies on our roads and our coastline.
Our counties are among the safest in the country in relation to coronavirus, with just one confirmed case per 1,000 people, and we have less reported crime than all but one of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. However, our beautiful part of the world contains many threats – particularly for those who are not familiar with the risks associated with driving on rural roads or swimming in our tidal waters.
Sadly, while many enjoyed the recent bank holiday and several sunny weekends our emergency services found themselves working desperately to save lives, sometimes in vain, and attempting to advise crowds of people on our beaches.
There were road casualties - the 27-year-old driver of a car in East Devon that came off the road on Saturday, May 23, lost his life, a man died on the A38 and two motorcyclists were seriously injured in a collision on Dartmoor. Last Wednesday (28th) another motorcyclist was seriously hurt in a crash in north Devon. This weekend two cyclists, one of them just 15, were seriously injured in separate collisions involving other vehicles in Cornwall.
The RNLI, which would usually be out in force on our beaches at this time of year, has been unable to train the lifeguards it needs and warned that over the bank holiday our beaches would be unmanned. Nonetheless thousands headed to our shores.
Although the vast majority of coastal visitors were safe, heavy seas and a spring tide made swimming and surfing more dangerous activities than usual on some days. In a few dreadful hours on bank holiday Monday a teenage girl died after the boat she was in overturned at Wadebridge in Cornwall, a man died after being pulled from the water near Padstow and a third incident at Porthtowan left a man in a critical condition. The next day a jetskier lost his life in an accident in South Devon.
This weekend there were numerous incidents including one where a man was seriously injured when he fell off a sea wall in Torbay, and a kayaker tragically lost his life in an incident in North Cornwall.
My thoughts are with the friends and families of those injured and the frontline staff who have worked so hard in recent and challenging times. Losing a loved one so suddenly is unthinkably terrible. I therefore support the RNLI’s decision, in response to the deaths, to reinstate lifeguard cover at 15 beaches, nine of them in Cornwall, and efforts by the police and partners to promote road safety that include the reintroduction of mobile speed cameras on our roads this week.
The message which I have been supportive of, and I urge others to heed, simply asks people to ‘think twice’ before they take a trip at the moment. A lot of community tension and danger could be avoided if people consider matters like where they are going to park, what toilet facilities they need and how they are going to remain a reasonable distance from others.
At the moment overnight stays are not permitted but the Government’s recovery strategy could see this change in the coming weeks, in normal years we already have more domestic visitors than any other force area. If restrictions are lifted further we can expect a busier summer than ever.
Lockdown, as I have mentioned before, comes with its own costs, to our cultural and sporting lives, people’s livelihoods and perhaps most importantly to people’s mental health, so I cautiously welcome a time when we have more freedom and once again the Westcountry can welcome in the tourists on whom it so depends.
In positive news Devon County Council and Torbay Council have received a proportion of the £300m for the test, track and trace programme to be rolled out. This is an essential part of the Government’s strategy to tackle coronavirus and means that anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and required to share information about their recent interactions.
There is some suggestion that unscrupulous criminals will seek to exploit this opportunity so it is worth knowing that if NHS Test and Trace calls you by phone, the service will be using a single phone number which is: 0300 0135 000. The only website the service will ask you to visit is: https://contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk. Contact tracers will never ask you to dial a premium rate number, for bank or password details or to make any form of payment.