Coronavirus – why does local matter?
by Phillip Vincent,

Coronavirus – why does local matter?

Jeremy Leggett, ACRE’s Policy Adviser explains why the government’s latest announcements promising a more local view on managing Coronavirus is better late than never for rural communities

Much has been written about the UK’s centralised approach to managing the current pandemic; unfortunately, much more has been written about the influence of our national politics on this approach. Where has ‘localism’ and community involvement been in all of this?

There will be outbreaks, more people may even die, but managing these outbreaks can be achieved much more successfully by local health professionals who know their patch

ACRE along with a cluster of other rural organisations, wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on 14th April saying:

“There is a question as to whether the national strategy would have been different if … from an early stage, the modelling that lay behind it had been more sensitive to different geographies within the UK. The risk is that by thinking only about the average national picture, we may have lost the scope to have a differentiated strategy that may have been as effective, but with a less serious impact on the both the economy and communities themselves.”

We went on to urge that much greater regional and rural differentiation needed to be applied both to the control strategy and, now, to the phasing out of the lockdown.

This letter followed our concern that neither the modelling of the pandemic, nor the strategy to deal with it had been ‘rural proofed’. In our BLOG written on 6th April we reflected on this:

2020 hindsight is very easy and even more pointless. Unless, of course, lessons are learned as a result. It is not too late to apply some genuine spatial, urban/rural, thought to the process by which the national strategy for dealing with Coronavirus moves through its next phases and into an exit from ‘lockdown’. Could the modelling allow us to anticipate that rural areas may reach the peak of infection just as urban centres are coming down the other side? Or even that the social distancing measures mean rural areas will never rise to the same peak?

At the end of May the UK is are moving into the process of a gradual release from the lockdown. In many rural areas people have felt that that release from the lockdown has already happened as sunny weather and permission to ‘travel for exercise’ have seen many visitors arriving in rural tourist spots.

Despite it coming late, however, Government should be congratulated for finally applying a genuinely local dimension to managing Coronavirus.

The powers vested in local Directors of Public Health, may, at last, start to be backed with the resources they at grassroots level. This will be key to enabling rural communities – and the ways in which they make their living – to emerge more quickly from the crisis.

Rural people have, if anything, been more diligent about obeying the restrictions than might have been expected. More diligent than some whose high profile has drawn attention to them. The rates of infection have, in the main, remained very low in many of our more rural areas. Despite this, almost every settlement, however small, has not only seen cases of Coronavirus, but also seen deaths. This means there is a good chance of highly localised outbreaks in rural areas as soon as we relax our guard. It is important to remember that rural areas have many more older people living in them than the UK’s major cities.

But rural England is different in other ways as well. It is not a city of six million people even if the same number of people liver there as live in London. There is not the same constant, hyper-mobile, mixing for education, employment and leisure that exists across the greater London area stretching from Colchester to Winchester, Ashford to Reading. Social mixing is not enabled by massive investment in public transport. In rural areas mixing, and therefore the transmission of a disease, can be kept to a more local matter and be effectively, locally managed and controlled.

There will be outbreaks, more people may even die, but managing these outbreaks can be achieved much more successfully by local health professionals who know their patch. More successfully than by a remote, privatised, call-centre. If a very local area has to be ‘locked-down’, we now know from experience that there will be an active civil society standing ready to support their local health services and local vulnerable residents. The ACRE Network stands ready to support them.