Yesterday (30 April) the Prime Minister, having recovered from his own encounter with the COVID-19 virus, very carefully began a discussion about a phased lifting of lockdown restrictions. He announced that the country was past the peak of the epidemic and that the pressing issue now is how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy. To that end he announced that the Government would be publishing a plan next week which he described as a road map out of the epidemic, although the timing of each and every step will be governed by data and scientific advice.
The countryside faces specific challenges as restrictions start to be eased. The Alliance is working to ensure that the interests of rural communities are not forgotten, but the first challenge we must face is our own understandable concerns about the spread of the virus. As the disease started to take hold there were a number of examples of gatherings at rural 'honeypots' and the movement of people from urban areas to holiday homes in the countryside which rightly raised concerns about the disease being spread to remote communities and scarce healthcare provision being overwhelmed. Now that the peak of the disease has apparently passed, however, addressing the devastating economic impact of the lockdown on rural businesses - especially in the tourism sector - must become a priority. It looks unlikely that international holiday destinations will be on many people's agenda this year which creates an opportunity for British holiday businesses. It is therefore critical that the Government has a clear plan to ease restrictions on travel which allows the reopening of hotels and other holiday accommodation. It is also vital the rural community understands that when the scientific advice states restrictions can safely be lifted, that we must be ready to welcome people into the countryside again.