Coronavirus lockdown: Re-opening attractions may reduce beach crowds – Brian Ferguson

Crowds of people were seen at Campsie Glen waterfall at the weekendCrowds of people were seen at Campsie Glen waterfall at the weekend
Crowds of people were seen at Campsie Glen waterfall at the weekend
While health concerns about Covid-19 must be the priority, allowing some much-loved attractions to re-open could help spread the load away from current hotspots, writes Brian Ferguson.

I count myself lucky to have had only a handful of really low points during the lockdown period. They have descended as Scotland basked in ridiculously warm spring weather. Film footage and images of crowds flocking to Portobello Beach, on Edinburgh’s waterfront, and the shores of Loch Lomond, filled me foreboding. I wasn’t alone.

Nicola Sturgeon admitted she was “nervous” in the run-up to the weekend’s rule-relaxation over friends and relatives meeting up, with good reason as it turned out. On the face of it, it looked like the First Minister’s plea to avoid beauty spots and tourist destinations during the initial easing of the restrictions over the next few weeks had been thrown back in her face. She certainly came across like a headteacher giving her pupils a stern dressing-down after returning from a rowdy school trip when she addressed the nation on Monday.

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The prospect of Scots being trapped in an extended period of semi-lockdown for the foreseeable future certainly seemed to move a lot since the weekend, amid threats from ministers to bring in new legal powers to ensure peope abide by the new rules and can face police action if they refuse.

The ultimate irony for the thousands of tourism businesses teetering on the brink is that the popularity of “hotspots” may dash their own hopes of being able to salvage something from the summer. Yet it is worth reflecting on why thousands appeared to take advantage of the shackles coming off.

Although large parts of the country are surrounded by rolling hills, deserted beaches and scenic parklands, many are not. Families and friends will doubtless have had to cancel long-awaited holidays. Some may have suffered serious economic hardship of late. Many will have dutifully stayed indoors for the best part of two months. A long-awaited reunion on a relatively easy-to-get-to beach or in a park, on the hottest weekend of the year, was maybe too tempting.

It is anyone’s guess whether there will be any further relaxation of the rules later this month. But it seems unrealistic to expect people to remain behind doors indefinitely, given their recent taste of freedom.

The reality for the Government, the police and local authorities across the country is that they need to come up with an action plan for accommodating large numbers of visitors arriving in villages, towns and cities from other parts of the country. Looming large on the calendar is the start of the Scottish school holidays this month. For most Scots, the prospect of an overseas holiday will have vanished. Families will be desperate for things to see and do. The depressing queues of vehicles at the first fast food chain outlets to reopen are evidence enough.

It strikes me that it would help hugely if as many indoor and outdoor attractions – including gardens, castles, museums and gallleries – could be reopened sooner rather than later to ease pressure on those places where people have flocked in increasing numbers of late.

While public health concerns clearly must be the over-riding priority, a revival of at least some of the country’s much-loved attractions could help spread the load away from current hotspots, in environments where numbers can be more carefully managed.

Staff currently on furlough could be brought back to work, local economies could be gradually rebooted, and children who have lost out on their education in recent weeks might learn a lot more about their own country into the bargain.

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