The Lake District: How to Turn an Emergency into a Catastrophe

BY ROGER WATSON

The Lake District, that jewel in the Cumbrian crown of England, is a case study in how mismanagement of what transpired to be essentially just another virus can lead to near economic catastrophe. After all, Covid-19 did the usual things that viruses do. Although not exclusively—it hastened the demise of people whose demise was imminent along with people in certain ‘at risk’ groups. Despite dire and inaccurate estimations of Covid-19 deaths by SAGE—thankfully recently disbanded—the virus left the vast majority of the population unscathed. I know the Lake District well having made many visits to camp, rock-climb, walk and stay in cottages and hotels. As such I was there before, during and after the Covid-19 lockdown. Conclusion, the green shoots of recovery are evident and optimism abounds, but the Lake District is not what it used to be.

People blame Covid-19, the ‘pandemic’ and the ‘public health emergency’ for what has happened to the Lake District—and many other areas of the UK—but it was none of these things that was to blame. It was what we did to try to mitigate the effects of the virus that has caused the damage and all for no good reason. Lockdown was not evidence based, it had never been tried before, it was advocated by nobody, including the World ‘Health’ Organization, and guess what: it didn’t have the slightest benefit.

The thriving Lake District is like a litmus test for the effect of lockdown. The streets were deserted during the lockdown to the detriment of local businesses. During the short-lived lifting of restrictions in July 2020 people returned to the streets encouragingly in their droves. But, while people were there with money to spend, there were far fewer opportunities to spend it. Many hotels, restaurants and shops remained closed and businesses continue to suffer. Even when you managed to make a booking in one of the few places that was open, due to social distancing (another arbitrary measure) there were few tables, ridiculous one way systems and the pervasive pong of bactericidal hand gel. Notwithstanding that Covid-19 is a virus, not a bacterium, and it is not spread by contact. In a decision straight out of the coronavirus comedy manual, campers had to bring their own bucket as the toilet blocks were closed and they were unable to shower.

Another unanticipated effect of Covid-19 measures was an invasion of people who had no respect for the countryside and left a trail of destruction in their wake. We experienced this when we took a pod at a notable and popular campsite last year. The place was overrun with northern beer swilling oiks—deprived of their annual all inclusive package holiday bash in Lanzagrotty—shouting on their kids (‘Chardonnay’ and ‘Troy’) and letting their repulsive dogs crap at random. My daughter and her fiancé were under canvas in the same place and suffered the same fate. We have been going to this campsite for years, so we know that it is not usually like this. This was also our fault as we advertised and catastrophised our Covid-19 infections and deaths daily (and as it transpired inaccurately and exaggeratedly) thereby giving other governments the Covid willies and stopping us from entering. Did the Chinese who so generously gifted Covid-19 to the world do this? You can bet your bottom renminbi they didn’t and their students flood into the UK by the planeload.

It is worth reflecting that we did know a few things about what an appropriate response to Covid-19 should be. Keep fit, keep your weight down and get plenty of natural light and fresh air. Where better a place to keep fit, keep your weight down and get plenty of natural light and fresh air than the Lake District? But, apart from some brief respite in the middle of 2020 and again in 2021 the Lake District was, essentially, closed. Even when it was not closed, the police asked people to ‘take a long hard look at your conscience’ about coming and the local health fascists advised people to take lateral flow test before visiting the Lake District. Who do these jokers think they are? Nicola Sturgeon? It would not have surprised me if some local politicians had made a bid for independence for the Lakes on the basis that they needed to keep English people out of a part of England. I have no idea to what extent these kinds of statements discouraged people from visiting the Lake District, but it cannot have helped.

It is notable that it is the usual suspects who make these stupid remarks, people in unproductive jobs who receive a salary without having to generate a profit. Meantime, the people who do have to generate a profit are left with their financial bums hanging out of a window and, as was notable from a very recent visit to the Lake District, they continue to struggle. My recent visit was off season so places like Keswick were not as packed as they are during summer. But conversations on a walk along main streets went like this: “What used to be there?”; “Was that a shop or a restaurant?”; and “What happened to such and such a business?” as you walked past a series of boarded up and empty premises. Moreover, the businesses that are open are struggling, not to find customers, they are struggling to find staff. Despite increased and inevitable levels of unemployment in the Lake District, the lockdown has led to a mass exodus of casual staff, and they have not returned. In one popular restaurant above an excellent bakery over breakfast the waitress (who trebled up behind the counter downstairs and cooking breakfast) told us that there were only two of them there and that, ironically, they had to close for half an hour daily in order to get their own lunch. They were finding it impossible to hire staff and all the shops, bars and restaurants along the street were having the same problem.

All this is bad enough as it is and, of course, reflected across the country in other areas where tourism and outdoor sports are an important aspect of the economy. Notwithstanding the fact that we now know, as many suspected from the outset, that lockdown was wrong it is all made worse by the fact that it was happening (or not happening) in places like the Lake District while the Hooray Henries of Westminster were whooping it up with aplomb. Many suspect that nobody will be brought to book for ‘Partygate’ and it appears that nobody will be punished for the excesses of lockdown. It is innocent people who have been punished by the excesses of lockdown and all they have to look forward to is a deluge of slogans such as ‘Build Back Better’ and the deprivations that will surely accompany The Great Reset. It must never happen again.

Roger Watson is a Registered Nurse and Editor-in-Chief of Nurse Education in Practice.

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