What is local? A more precise definition could heal the urban / rural Covid-19 divide

Residents of rural Wales have been keen to avoid a re-run of the mass getaway seen in March. Picture by the Snowdonia National Park Authority

Arthur Rogers

“After 20 years people have woken up to devolution,” the First Minister said yesterday.

And indeed a lot of media focus has been on the divergence between how Wales and England have tackled Covid-19.

But perhaps the more important schism that has been further exacerbated by the virus – which has shown an uncanny knack of highlighting unaddressed divisions around the world – has been the urban/rural divide.

After all, while so much media and political focus have been on those in England unable to climb Snowdon or swim off the coast of Pembrokeshire, the same rules apply to people in Wales too – most of which live in urban areas.

As suggested, the urban / rural divide is nothing new. There is a tendency for urban people to think of country dwellers as unwelcoming and fond of telling others what to do, while some residents of rural areas think those from urban areas have no understanding or respect for rural life, and, as the main centres of political gravity, make political decisions with little thought for those outside of their metropolises.

What has exacerbated this divide is that the virus, as it works its way through Wales, has hit urban areas first and hardest. Many people in rural areas are very aware that, as it has not yet arrived there, they are potentially more susceptible to infection when it lands.

An at this time especially, when all of the major leisure venues in cities are closed, the temptation to travel to the country is stronger than the temptation to visit the city. The downside to this is that despite being very big there is a tendency for everyone that escapes to the country to congregate on a few landmarks – the peak of Snowdon, for example – which very rarely have the capacity for a lot of people whilst conducting social distancing.

So far rural Wales has been successful in emphasising the need for urban dwellers to stay away. When Pennard Community Council in Gower coordinated a joint message with local businesses and landowners reiterating Welsh Government advice to refrain from driving for leisure activities or exercise, there was a broadly positive response.  The same has been true of messages from Snowdonia National Park.

But Covid-19 has still managed to exacerbate the divide between urban and rural communities. On one side, it is further convinced those in the countryside that the urbanites are inconsiderate: they will expose disproportionately elderly communities to the virus just so they can get some fresh air.

On the other side, some from urban Wales see the ‘stay way’ messages as rural people as being unwelcoming, hogging the countryside and trying to tell them what to do. The common vein running through these two camps, which I should stress are in the majority, is that they see the other side as selfish.

 

Precise

So what could be done to heal this divide that Covid-19 has opened up further? One thing I would suggest is to make the Welsh Government’s guidelines on what constitutes a ‘local area’ rather more clear.

Welsh Government guidelines currently state that:

“We have deliberately not defined this more precisely as it could be seen to be arbitrary and it will also depend on the circumstances – what people perceive to be “local” in Cardiff on the one hand, and in Mid Wales on the other, could be quite different.

“People are asked to exercise good judgement and common sense. If you live in Cardiff and have driven to Porthcawl to exercise on the beach, you haven’t stayed local.”

Whilst the vagueness is understandable, the guidelines themselves admit that what ‘local’ means is likely to be different in urban and rural areas. It may also mean something very different to people at either end of the same journey.

Those living in the countryside tend to think of the ‘local area’ as that surrounding their small town or village. For those living in urban areas, it can mean a much wider catchment area.

Most people travelling from Swansea to Pennard, or Bangor to Llanberis, would ordinarily consider themselves to be staying local whereas the people in Pennard or Llanberis would not see these people as locals. Neither definition is right or wrong but, when making these decisions, it is important to understand how these words will be interpreted differently.

Were there to be a more precise definition that was explained by the Welsh Government and helped people to understand why it may have to be arbitrary, it would reinforce the majority positive response to these messages.

To be clear, this would involve legal clarifications which are currently vague, rather than daily briefing explanations which have been more helpful.

This would also help to mitigate the fractiousness and misunderstandings which have understandably developed, especially at a time when so many people have so many other concerns.

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Jonesy
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Jonesy

Why dont they just say 15 miles radius, for example

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Quite. Fifteen miles specified might be seen as arbitrary and disputable, but the principle, given some careful thought, strikes me as unarguable.

Carol Loughlin
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Carol Loughlin

In some rural areas it is more than 15 miles to the nearest affordable shop.

Carol Stokes
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Carol Stokes

Being rural, that wouldn’t get us to a supermarket.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Really? When I lived in north Radnorshire I thought I was in one of the more remote areas, but fifteen miles got me to a discount supermarket …

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

Then you could show evidence of where you live to the heddlu, and they could use their discretion.

Helen Lewis
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Helen Lewis

France seems to have quite sensible directions. You can travel no more than 100km in some designated areas. If the government isn’t prepared to put a figure on it, it can hardly be surprised that people develop their own interpretations of “local”. If I lived in the middle of Cardiff, I’d think Porthcawl was local enough.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

France is huge, and you better have your permit or you are deep in the gumbo!

Helen Lewis
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Helen Lewis

I wasn’t suggesting that you could travel 100km in Wales, simply that it makes sense to set a limit.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

OK……. apologies, then.

Philip Davies
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Philip Davies

There is now almost a moral theology developing around this virus; we worship an NHS that can do no wrong, surrender body and soul to ever more intrusive and politicised medicalisation, and waste our time and our energies on maintaining an entirely counter-productive purity that will supposedly ensure the disappearance of risk and Death entirely from the world; until then we are enjoined and harried into our cells to meditate upon our supposed uncleanness. Yes, the secular Religion of Health has finally usurped the bolted and barred Churches. and a new hyper-hygienic hand-wringing and finger-wagging evangelical Puritanism is sending us… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I’m 75 in August, male, and – to make it worse – a smoker.

So perhaps you’ll understand if the precautionary principle counts rather more for me than it appears to do for you!

Simon Gruffydd
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As someone in their 70’s, if you caught this coronavirus there is a 60% chance you would not even notice it. Approximately 35% chance you would experience mild symptoms. Less than 1% chance of dying from it. Less again if you are a smoker. (Smokers, for some reason are less susceptible to dying from Covid-19.) There is probably a greater chance you you being involved in a fatal car accident, if you drive. Are you sure your risk assessment is up to scratch?

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I look at the statistics around the average age of virus fatalities and note the cull of elderly care home residents whose frailty these days isn’t for very many related to chronic physical illness; and then there’s your counsel … and Alan Sugar and Simon Dolan, the tycoons … and – hedging their critiques, as befits – Duncan Smith and Rees-Mogg.

Boils down to Clint Eastwood and ‘Dirty Harry’ – “do I feel lucky?”!

Simon Gruffydd
Guest

The rituals of clapping for the NHS is a cult-like behaviour. The whole worship of the NHS is a cult. Those in the cult cannot see it. That’s the nature of cult-consciousness. “An idea is something you have. An ideology is something that has you.”

Llewellyn
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Llewellyn

Can some one please tell me why urban types tie dog cr#p in bag to trees or bushes. I’m in Efiionedd and sometimes I walk deep into the country and see bags like this in the most random of places. Do they think some worker is going to go 5 miles out of their way to a footpath used only used a few times a week, to pick up the bag? In terms of locals in a place like llanberis it’s kind of odd. My family originate from nant peris. In that area and llanberis theres not that many welsh… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

The phenomenon of bagged dog crap hung on the branches of trees and hedges is by no means confined to Bangor a’r ardal gyfagos. It appears to be a universal phenomenon, and it baffles me entirely. Why go to the trouble of picking up your hound’s faecal deposit, only then to hang the bag on an adjacent shrub? What’s the point?

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Dogs! Now there’s a topic that could get you killed, and the ritual of taking mutts to someone else’s land to foul it
and drive back home…………………………

Simon Gruffydd
Guest

I’m one of that small minority that works in the country. Currently clearing a 2 acre pant with sickle and scythe. When you work in nature you come to realise that life and death are 2 sides of the same coin. . We’re are all going to die. And it is natural. Our response to this not-extremely-dangerous coronavirus reveals a psychosis in our attitude to death. Collectively making our lives miserable in the vain hope of escaping death is possibly the stupidest idea we have come up with for a long long time. My task is to come to terms… Read more »

John Evans
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John Evans

are you saying that certain elements of society should ‘take one for the team’? I used to work in ‘the country’ and although life and death are both ever present we do try to avoid the latter. You’d be better off with a nice petrol strimmer much quicker. Still have a sickle and a scythe but they grace the wall in the shed now and have done for a long time. Sometimes we find better ways of doing things. Sometimes we don’t realize that we have lost touch with the world outside. None of my farming relatives were ever this… Read more »

Carol Stokes
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Carol Stokes

The distance classed as local has to be relevant to where you live. If you are in a city or large town local is what it says, local. If you are rural then local is totally different . I have to travel nearly twenty miles to a supermarket, so therefore local has to be a lot larger radius. When we are told to exercise locally in an open area my nearest local open space is seven miles away. I might be surrounded by fields, but I can’t walk them.

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

why can’t you walk in the local fields out of curiosity?

Helen Lewis
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Helen Lewis

Most fields in the countryside are private property.

John Evans
Guest
John Evans

yes but it is more complicated than that. Right to roam allows for access to more than you think, despite agricultural use.

Matthew Paul
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Matthew Paul

Right to roam doesn’t apply at all over cultivated land. Open access land in Wales is typically uncultivated hill. If you want to walk over land you don’t own, and you’re not sure if its status, check first. Even open access land can be subject to discretional or seasonal restrictions. Useful guide here:

https://www.walksaroundbritain.co.uk/openaccess.html

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Apart from that weekend early in the “crisis period” when much of the Rhondda and adjacent valleys poured into Porthcawl, Barry Island and the rest of the south facing coast it is quite evident that the “travelling tourist ” problem is mostly about visitors tripping in from other side of Clawdd Offa. So why the “urban /rural divide” ? Let’s be honest about this – the problem is now driven by the inability of people in England, mostly English, to contain their child-like need for instant gratification. Wherever they go , even if their destinations are in England there are… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Not to argue, but some of our lot are the same. Also, I did once have an idea “J’s Kiosks” where bikers/drivers
could briefly stop for a coffee/snack and a wee (50p) in comfort, and the ladies section would also have tester
scents etc. This service seems to be needed still?