At first glance, it seemed like a pretty perfect day in the self-proclaimed surfing capital of the UK. The sandy beaches were crowded, the pubs, cafes and shops buzzed.
However, I looked a little closer and it became apparent that all was not quite right. A tapas bar was closed because a member of the team had tested positive; a surf shop closed its doors for lunch due to a shortage of staff; a scribbled note pasted in a candy store window summed up the problem – “Covid in Newquay is on the rise” – and urged customers to wear a mask and socially distance themselves.
As well as claiming the title of the country’s surfing capital, this north Cornwall party town is also, for the time being, the Covid capital of England.
The venue is reeling after health officials said nearly 5,000 cases had been linked to the Boardmasters surf and music festival, which took place in Newquay earlier this month. About three-quarters of them were between the ages of 16 and 21 and around 800 live in Cornwall. Many of those who attended believe that the number of infections is likely much higher.
He prompted tourism chiefs to urge people not to visit the region unless they had pre-booked and tested for Covid-19 before, during and after their stay.
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Health and Care Association said healthcare professionals had to cope with an “extreme surge” in demand, with hospitals, GP surgeries and nursing homes struggling to cope. .
“I’m very, very concerned,” said Pat Smith, an elderly resident who had ventured to the post office on the outskirts of town but was going no further. “We have been lucky so far in Cornwall with Covid, but now it has really hit us. I was going for a walk on the beach, but I don’t think it bothers me. He is very busy. I’ve had my shots but I’m not risking it. “
The Covid figures for Newquay are stark. Three areas in and around the city have the highest case rates in England: Newquay East, Newquay West, and St Columb Minor.
There are about 30 Covid patients in Cornwall hospital, up from 27 a week ago, and nine in Plymouth, Devon. The holiday weekend, which features a Pride event in Newquay, is expected to make matters worse.
Political opponents of the Conservative leadership in Cornwall are appalled. Andrew George, a councilor speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats on health, said the NHS in Cornwall was in “collapse”.
He said: “An important contribution is the prevalence of conservatives promoting the libertarian agenda of ‘it’s my right’ over the interest of the wider community. It is time for a new campaign. A ‘let’s take care of each other’ message. Encourage people to respect and support each other, not just assert their rights to do what they please. “
Rachel Wigglesworth, public health director for Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said she believed the number of cases in Newquay would start to decline. How low they fall is another matter. It is a very popular tourist area; it is still an attractive place for people to spend time. We want that to continue, but doing it with a little more responsibility is welcome. “
There were few signs of people taking cover or giving themselves space in Newquay on Thursday.
Lynne Shelton, an NHS worker, and her husband, Andrew, who were visiting from Derbyshire, were among the few who wore masks. “He is so busy and no one is covering up. It’s worrying, ”Lynne said.
A bar owner who was forced to close said a dozen of his friends had caught Covid. “But what can we do?” said the owner, who asked not to be identified. “Should we have a two-week lockdown here? Would that help? But everyone has been so beaten that we have to stay open. “
Many business owners were clearly enjoying the crowds. Paul Wills, a fish and chip shop owner, said Newquay was the busiest he had known in the 11 years he had operated in the city. He was not wearing a mask and said he was not worried about catching Covid. “I have more important things to worry about, like making a living.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism