Coronavirus: 'People think rural areas are clear - they aren't'

By James McCarthy
BBC News

Tractor on a farmImage source, Getty Images
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There are fears in rural communities about the spread of coronavirus

As coronavirus rips through the UK, urban centres like Newport have borne its brunt.

But there are fears in rural areas the disease has yet to peak in their communities.

Dwyfor Meirionnydd's MP, Liz Saville Roberts, warned the disease was already "in every community".

"I don't think we are in the same situation as Gwent, but people think the rural areas are clear - and they are not," she said.

"It is in every community but we have no proof of it."

'Impossible to close our farm'

Image source, Family photo
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Dairy farmer Aled Jones is worried about his 95-year-old mother

Dairy farmer Aled Jones works and lives near Caernarfon, Gwynedd.

The dad-of-four and grandfather-of-one kept said it was impossible to close his farm down but he had been reminding his workers about social distancing.

"My 95-year-old mother lives with us so it's critical my wife and I, as carers, do not come into contact with anything that might bring it into the house," Mr Jones, 59, said.

"I'm dreading having a critical piece of equipment or milking parlour break down.

"And I'm living on tenterhooks in case one of my processors struggles and finds themselves not having the manpower to run their business."

He said he had sympathy with the government.

"No one has ever had to deal with anything like this before," Mr Jones said.

"You can comfort yourself, to a certain degree, that where you live, in a more sparsely populated area, that the disease may not arrive in the same way.

"But that's conditional on everyone who lives in these communities, and those coming, taking precautions to keep these areas as they are."

Concern over second homes

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Signs have appeared around many beauty spots urging tourists to stay away

Second-home owners and caravanners have been urged not to come to Wales to self-isolate from coronavirus.

Councillor Dilwyn Morgan, from Bala, who sits on Gwynedd council, said the issue was the "main topic of conversation in the community".

"This area depends on tourists - we have had them since Victorian times," he said.

"The people of Bala are welcoming people, it's part of the economy.

"But conversations have changed. People are worried and they are angry."

He said residents were concerned Covid-19 was "not far away".

"We are not talking a great distance between it and us," Mr Morgan said.

"Then the worry is if it gets to us how far we are from the nearest hospital - we're almost an hour away."

'I just want to see people'

Image source, FAMILY PHOTO
Image caption,
Laura Ridgway closed her glamping business a day before lockdown

Laura Ridgway, 43, runs glamping business Stackpole Under The Stars with husband Stan in Pembrokeshire.

They shut the business the day before lockdown because of coronavirus concerns.

"Even after lockdown we were getting people asking if we were open and we would tell them we had been told to close," Laura said.

The reality of isolation was "just dawning" on Laura.

"I just want to see people," the mum-of-one said.

"We've had a winter of isolation because the site is closed.

"We don't really have close neighbours and the winters can be quite lonely. Add to that the potential of months more being isolated. That is quite difficult."

They are facing losing the season's business.

"It is our fourth season and we are a small business," Laura said.

"This would have been the first year we were supposed to be fully sustained by it.

"The potential for us to lose an entire season is a bit of a scary prospect."

Before lockdown "the pressure of trying to keep people safe" worried Laura.

"People were saying Pembrokeshire is a very rural community where healthcare is not on your doorstep, and if we had a sudden influx of visitors the pressure would be even greater than usual," she said.

She added that she was happy for key workers use the site's accommodation for free if needed.

'Hospitals only geared up for small numbers'

Dr Phil White lives on Anglesey and is chairman of the BMA's Welsh GP Committee.

"The problem with rurality is that the hospitals are geared up for a small amount of people," he said.

"So they have to scale things up in case things get worse.

"We treat every patient as if they have Covid."

He said there was "a degree" of concern about people using holiday homes, adding that people travelling had been a problem in coronavirus-wracked Italy.

'Areas could feel isolated'

The Welsh Government said: "We know that rural communities provide the backbone of vital supply chains during this difficult time, and the ongoing pandemic could lead to many living in rural areas to feel isolated.

"We want to assure people living in rural communities that they continue to be a priority for Welsh Government, and we are working hard with partners to ensure their well-being, and will continue to provide support where possible."