UK holiday home owners trying to escape coronavirus face backlash

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 20 March 2020 17:09 GMT

Small toy figures are seen in front of diplayed Airbnb logo in this illustration taken March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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Locals have concerns that the influx of tourists could spread the global pandemic and overload rural healthcare systems

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, March 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British people planning to sit out the coronavirus epidemic in holiday homes are facing a backlash from locals over concerns they could spread the virus and overload rural health systems.

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As some take advantage of work from home policies aimed at curbing transmission and others look to escape virus-hit urban centres, a family doctor and a parliamentarian in north Wales led calls for outsiders to stay away.

"I am extremely concerned by the high influx of tourists and second home owners who have clearly flooded into the area over the last week," said doctor Eilir Hughes in a joint statement warning health facilities could not cope with extra strain.

Some of those arriving in the district were ignoring advice to avoid others as much as possible and were gathering in cafes, he said, as he urged visitors to return to their main homes.

"People who have holiday homes in the area are seeing maps of (north Welsh county) Gwynedd as being free of coronavirus and deciding to relocate here," added lawmaker Liz Saville Roberts from the Welsh Plaid Cymru party in the statement.

As coronavirus case numbers swiftly rise in many urban centres, people moving to more isolated holiday homes have sparked concern in a number of European countries.

Norway banned people from going to their countryside cabins on Thursday in order to contain the virus and reduce impacts on local health services, while rural populations in France have also protested over an influx of new arrivals.

However, some holiday cottage owners are advertising properties as being in "virus-free" areas where people can avoid becoming infected.

"Escape the coronavirus in the city and stay away until it's safe to return," said one post for a Scottish house on short-term letting website Airbnb.

There is a risk that people could introduce the virus to new areas when they travel - especially if they do not have symptoms and are not aware they are infected, said Edward Wright, a virology expert at the University of Sussex.

"Restrictions on movement and testing are crucial," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Travel is how the virus is spreading and limiting that travel is the best way to stop the process of transmission."

The Local Government Association, which represents regional authorities in England and Wales, said people should heed government advice to avoid all non-essential travel.

"We would urge anybody, particularly those in at-risk groups such as those aged 70 and over, to follow this guidance and avoid the risk of spreading the virus and adding unnecessary pressure to local health services," said a spokesman.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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