Why one UK resort town is urging visitors to stay away

Margate, United Kingdom – It may seem like an odd message from a summer resort, but businesses in Margate on England’s southeast coast are urging people to stay away to avoid a second wave of the coronavirus.

After spending more than two months in confinement, many Britons rushed to the beach last weekend, families and small groups of people basking in the first of the summer sun.

They were encouraged to the coast not only by the weather but also the government’s gentle attempts to loosen lockdown restrictions, including allowing day trips by car to the coast.

Yet fear of the new illness is palpable among many small business owners in Margate, whose sandy beaches are a favourite sunny weather retreat for Londoners.

“Normally we’d be absolutely excited to have beautiful weather on a bank holiday, we’d be organising events,” says Jodie Ellena, one of the owners of the Bus Cafe, a restaurant that overlooks Margate’s bay.

“But not now. It’s too early.”

 

– Small space, big crowds –

 

Ellena’s cafe, in a red double-decker bus, has been closed since March, when Britain announced its lockdown in its response to the spread of the virus.

“We’re quite a small cafe,” says Ellena. “We’ve got a very small area.

“So, to be able to honestly maintain social distancing and be safe to our staff and our customers and the public, we’re quite reluctant at the moment, until we have got some strict guidelines.”

Instead she wants cafes to open by July, which would allow them to get through the winter financially.

Ellena said she would rather suffer for a few more months financially than risk a second virus surge, whose prospects feel especially frightening in a country with Europe’s highest official death toll, now up to nearly 38,000.

But not everyone is in full agreement with the cafe owner. Some think it would be rather healthy for Britons to finally go out and soak in the sun.

 

– Everything is closed –

 

“It is good for the mind to go out,” explains Ian Walters, a construction salesman who travelled to Margate.

The town has been immortalised in song, “Down to Margate” by duo Chas and Dave, and on popular British television programmes. More recently, it has developed a reputation as a local art centre, becoming the new home of the Turner Contemporary gallery in 2011.

However, although restrictions are being lifted, few places are open.

Elena Monzchi, a young Italian from London, is disappointed.

“I didn’t expect everything to be closed like this,” she says, having a beer with a friend.

 

– ‘Only source of income’ –

 

Ed Warren, owner of Cliffs cafe and vinyl store, is one of those who has backed the “Don’t Come to Margate” campaign and says he is convinced that there will be a second wave in the UK, “given the way things have gone”.

“I understand that some businesses want to reopen,” he says, before adding: “I would feel guilty for encouraging people to come given the state of things.”

The virus has been a health disaster for Britain, with some data suggesting that Britain’s real toll could be 46,000 or even higher.

Despite the sad statistics and some warnings that it is too early to open up, the government considers sufficient progress has been made to allow retail businesses to reopen from June 15.

Rachel and Ben Williams relaunched their artisan ice cream parlour this past weekend and can’t wait to do the same for their adjoining antique store.

“This is our only source of income. And we are far from earning as much as before the coronavirus,” says Ben.

“During the confinement people didn’t come at all,” laments Rick Everett, chairman of Thanet Council, which takes in Margate. “Now they can’t spend money.”

By Veronique Dupont

Coronavirus: how is it transmitted?