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Coronavirus has had a devastating effect on Cornwall’s tourism industry – which has already lost around £3 million this year as a result of the lockdown. Now tourism leaders say 80% of local businesses, who rely on tourists, are in danger of collapse if we don’t see a return to business as usual in July and August.

Usually, Easter is a busy time for the county. Businesses who have eked out a living during the quiet winter months rely on the Bank Holiday to bring in some much-needed extra income. However, the arrival of COVID-19 on British shores this year meant the end of life as we knew it. While businesses all over the UK have taken a hit financially as a result of the virus, the tourism sector in particular has struggled, due to people being unable to go out.

First case

The first cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on 29th January, when two Chinese nationals at the Staycity Aparthotel in York fell ill. On 6th February, a British businessman was diagnosed with the virus in Brighton, after catching it in Singapore. He was later linked to 11 other cases, including five in the UK.

The first person to contract coronavirus in the UK without having been abroad was a male resident of Surrey, who was diagnosed on 28th February. There were 20 cases involving British citizens that month. Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said it was unknown how the Surrey man had contracted the virus. He was transferred from Haslemere Health Centre to a specialist NHS infection centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital in London.

The first British fatality, also in February, was a man in his 70s, who was taken to hospital in Japan after falling ill on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, in the port of Yokohama.

Lockdown begins

Although health chiefs said there would most likely be more cases, no-one could have predicted the pandemic that swept the world. Less than one month later, on 23rd March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson put Britain under lockdown. He ordered people to stay in their homes and told businesses deemed non-essential to close to the public.

This included pubs, restaurants, retailers, tourism attractions, zoos, wildlife centres, hotels, cinemas, fast food chains and anywhere else where people might congregate. A national emergency was declared after people failed to voluntarily stay at home, despite health chiefs’ advice. The police were empowered to make people go home if they were breaking the lockdown. Persistent offenders, including shops that didn’t close when ordered to do so, faced hefty fines.

In the preceding weeks, between 28th February and 23rd March, the number of UK cases of coronavirus had rocketed to 6,650, including 335 fatalities. Today, despite the lockdown, there have been more than 311,000 cases of COVID-19 in the UK and more than 43,500 deaths.

Although the spike in cases seems to have levelled off and the government is gradually relaxing some of the lockdown restrictions, the damage has already been done for a number of businesses.

Tourism threat

After more than three months under lockdown, tourism chiefs in Cornwall have revealed the devastation caused by the loss of their bread-and-butter industry. They say 80% of businesses relying on holidaymakers could collapse if they don’t return for July and August.

Tourism is usually a booming £1 billion industry for Cornwall, but the loss of the Easter trade has already set the sector back significantly. The holiday season officially kicks off at Easter, when around 180,000 people pour into the county to enjoy the four-day Bank Holiday break, from Good Friday to Easter Monday.

News that holidays in England are officially allowed from 4th July couldn’t have come at a better time for the beleaguered county, which normally attracts four million visitors every year.

New holiday guidelines

According to new government guidelines, Britain’s tourism industry will slowly be getting back on track, although it won’t be “business as normal”, as safety measures will have to be followed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new regulations would come into effect in England on 4th July, allowing no more than two households to stay together overnight in hotels, bed and breakfasts and other self-contained accommodation, including campsites, as long as any shared facilities were properly cleaned.

Currently, the guidelines apply only to England. In Wales, travel is likely to be allowed from 6th July, while Scotland’s tourism industry is set to reopen on 15th July. In Northern Ireland, caravan parks began to reopen on 26th June, ahead of the rest of the UK. The owners of static caravans are already starting to arrive back.

Caravan-owners felt they should have been able to spend the night there sooner, as they are self-contained homes and are typically at least two metres apart from each other, with private facilities. However, they fell under the same rules as other holiday accommodation during the lockdown.

Life after lockdown

For anyone planning on taking a holiday, they will find life after lockdown is different from pre-coronvirus times, as stringent safety measures will still be in place.

Malcolm Bell, the chief executive of Visit Cornwall, has revealed many local tourism businesses are at their lowest point financially. Many are close to their overdraft limit and they have no money coming in. In addition, customers who had booked holidays that they couldn’t take were asking for refunds.

The news that the government is permitting holidays in England from 4th July is the lifeline they need to start seeing the green shoots of recovery. Two-thirds of Cornwall’s income is made in spring and summer, so starting the season late will still mean losses, but at least it will give businesses a chance to survive.

Sanctuary saved

One tourist attraction that is particularly grateful to reopen is the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, located near Helston. The charity depends on income from visitors to fund its welfare work for injured and orphaned seals. It also cares for a number of marine animals with various medical needs, who can never be released back to the wild.

It was the first time in 60 years that it had been closed for such a long period and this almost spelled disaster. The cost of providing food and care for all the animals is £23,000 a month. An online fundraising appeal has helped to safeguard the immediate future of the sanctuary, which normally welcomes around 100,000 visitors annually – Justin Clarke, Managing Director for The Cornwall SEO Co, was delighted to help the centre with a donation.

Now the lockdown is being relaxed, it can open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to start off, with hopes to steadily increase this. Like every other attraction, it has updated its health and safety procedures to keep staff and visitors safe.

For tourism business all over Cornwall, the relaxation of lockdown rules might have come just in time to save those in danger of collapse.

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