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The economy needs rebalancing to shield rural Wales from the impact of coronavirus

The economy must be drastically rebalanced if rural communities are to be shielded from the worst impacts of coronavirus, says Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Minister.

Large swathes of rural Wales have just endured a weekend from hell.

 

Firstly, critically important sectors of our economy were effectively closed down without notice.

 

Pubs, restaurants and cafés were told to shut.

 

On top of that, the hugely important tourism sector was told to prepare for a lockdown that would see their much-anticipated Easter and spring trade decimated.

 

To top it all, the self-employed – who make up 25 per cent of the workforce in some Welsh counties – saw contracts cancelled and work dry up overnight.

 

That economic hit is, of course, secondary to the importance of limiting the impact of the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Influx

 

What happened next for very many areas of the region I represent – which stretches from Holyhead to Deeside – was an influx of people who seemed oblivious to all the medical advice and public service announcements about physical distancing and social isolation.

 

Far too many people treated the weekend as an early bank holiday and flocked to our many tourist hotspots in their droves.

 

Popular resorts such as Barmouth and Llandudno were as busy as a summer’s day.

 

I know how tempting it must be to head for the coast or the hills on a clear spring day – it’s not easy having children cooped up for an indefinite time.

 

But the irresponsible behaviour of these people sparked a fierce reaction from local people who understood the dangers they were bringing with them for the local population.

 

Vulnerable

 

North Wales has a higher population of elderly and vulnerable people than most areas of the UK.

 

In addition, it does not have adequate specialist health services to deal with that kind of influx, especially as many were city dwellers who may have been inadvertently bringing the virus with them.

 

A GP’s video imploring these people to go back to their primary homes where their GP could deal with them went viral (no pun intended).

 

Roads were blocked and signs put up pleading with people to go home.

 

Things became very tense and unpleasant, especially in areas that are an hour away from a district general hospital.

 

Crisis

 

As I write this column in a fast-moving crisis, a lockdown has just been imposed and that should prevent a repeat of last weekend.

 

But there are still huge uncertainties in what is as much an economic as a health crisis.

 

It’s impossible to say whether the proposed package for small businesses will do the job.

 

We await news on the support for the self-employed and how our hospitality industry can bounce back from losing a spring and (potentially) a whole summer of trade.

 

Many farmers of course have been encouraged to diversify and are reliant on some income from tourism.

 

Some counties in north Wales already have the lowest income per head of any throughout the UK.

 

Re-building

 

There will be a huge re-building effort needed across the United Kingdom, but some of the hardest hit areas were already economically vulnerable.

 

My fear is that this pandemic will not only claim the lives of many people but could deliver a deadly blow to the rural economy of Wales unless there is a drastic re-balancing of the economy.

 

That re-balancing is already happening with state intervention into the private sector.

 

It’s not only welcome, it’s essential.

 

We will have to see how the pandemic evolves and hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

 

Llyr can be found tweeting at @LlyrGruffydd

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