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Rural areas concern over ‘Stay alert’ advice’

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, addressed the nation on Sunday 10th May, outlining the next stages in fighting the covid-19 virus

The ‘conditional plan’ included outline details of how we could reopen parts of society from Wednesday.  The Government has moved away from its ‘Stay Home’ slogan to a message asking the public to ‘Stay Alert’.

The full speech can be viewed here

Boris Johnson highlighted the tragic death toll and the immense suffering that people have endured throughout this pandemic and said that ‘thanks to your effort and sacrifice in stopping the spread of this disease that the death rate is coming down and hospital admissions are coming down.'

He highlighted the need to ‘stay alert’ in the coming weeks with a new Covid Alert System being implemented, run by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre.  “The Covid Alert Level will be determined primarily by R and the number of coronavirus cases and in turn that Covid Alert Level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures – the lower the level the fewer the measures.”  There are 5 levels and we are currently at level 4.  In addition, fines for breaching the rules have been almost doubled to £10, up to a cap of £3,200.

The new advice outlined the following:

  • Anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.
  • Avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited.
  • To ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure.
  • When you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But just as with workplaces, public transport operators will also be following COVID-secure standards.
  • From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise.
  • You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, (there is no mileage limit) you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.
  • You must obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them.

More details were due to be announced on Monday 11th May with a 50 page guidance document being released.  In addition, the Government published a number of FAQ’s about the changes which would be implemented from Wednesday 13th May which can be viewed here.

The Rural Services Network is concerned about the impact of this advice on rural areas, particularly as they have a greater proportion of older residents who are in the most vulnerable category.  In general, rural areas have not seen the spread of the virus to the same levels as bigger cities, although there are some rural communities with significant numbers of cases, more so than urban.

There are concerns that the advice that you can now drive to other destinations to take unlimited exercise, whilst not staying overnight, could still mean that large numbers of people will now travel to rural areas and beauty hot spots, potentially overwhelming communities that have so far been protected from the virus and also overwhelming the local NHS services

Whilst the guidance is to avoid public transport and walk or cycle to work if you can, the £250 million emergency active travel fund announced at the weekend, is likely to benefit urban areas, as the suggested improvements include initiatives such as bike and bus only streets in cities.

The RSN will consider the guidance in more detail to fully determine impacts for rural areas and their communities. 

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