We spoke to community pharmacist Simon Butterworth, who has concerns over the impact a potential influx of tourists could have on the Lake District as lockdown is relaxed

The region of Cumbria has felt the hit of the coronavirus pandemic considerably harder than most. Currently experiencing around 424 deaths per 100k people, Cumbria stands as the 6th most infected region in England.

Community pharmacist Simon Butterworth, who manages Collins and Butterworth pharmacy, the only independent pharmacy in the small tourist village of Hawkshead, Cumbria, said the extent of the virus can be felt in the community and pharmacy alike.

Some people with ‘very high levels of anxiety’ not leaving homes

‘There’s a certain level of anxiety in the air, people are concerned and worried about transmitting infection because of how high the infection rate is here,’ the pharmacist said.

‘Some people with very high levels of anxiety aren’t leaving their homes, which has an impact on us in terms of increased need to deliver and increased workload.’

Mr Butterworth has attributed a higher workload to a rush of people who arrived just before the lockdown, ‘escaping large cities’ to their second homes in the countryside. ‘I’m currently sorting out prescriptions for people from all over the country who are living here for the duration of the pandemic’, he explained.

A potential influx of tourists

However, his overarching concern, and the concern felt by other pharmacies in the area, is the potential for additional tourists who may head to the area as the government's lockdown restrictions are increasingly eased.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday that people are now allowed to drive to other destinations to spend time outdoors.

Cumbria is a popular destination for walking enthusiasts and tourists and that is causing worry among the communities who live there.

The main concern, according to Mr Butterworth, is for the smaller villages in the region, such as Hawkshead, which are usually popular with tourists, but are now almost completely shut down because of coronavirus.

‘Pharmacies are one of the only places which are still open,’ he said, ‘even public toilets here are closed, which means there are no sanitation facilities here.’

Picture of Hawkshead taken by Simon Butterworth

There are also concerns that visitors would put increased pressure on the pharmacy, as well, which it may not be able to cope with. ‘We can cope with the current demand, as that's what we’ve been set up to do, but any more would put pressure on the community’, he said.

Of course, the lack of tourists over the last few months has meant the pharmacy hasn’t been experiencing revenue through its usual streams, including sales of sunblock and hayfever medication.

However, like most pharmacies around the country, Collins and Butterworth pharmacy has been very busy and has become a centralised health and information centre for the community.

‘People are coming to our pharmacy as a reliable, trusted source of information, advice and support, especially since GP surgeries have been adopting a closed-door policy’.

Cumbria ‘not yet ready’ for visitors

Cumbria’s Director of Public Health Colin Cox told the Pharmacist he was ‘sure that [pharmacy teams] will have been working incredibly hard during these challenging circumstances,’ and that he sympathised with the concern felt by pharmacies over the possible influx of tourists.

‘While it is true that the great outdoors offers less opportunity for spreading the virus than close contact indoors, obviously visitors will inevitably bring a demand on local services, and social distancing will become more difficult,’ he said. He added: ‘Our message to the public is that we’ll be delighted to welcome people back – but not yet.’

In a tweet, Cumbria tourism board urged tourists to stay away from the region. ‘The safety of residents must come first’ they said. ‘For now, tourism businesses in Cumbria remain closed and we urge everyone to continue to #StayHome’

South Lakes Police posted to say: ‘Before considering travelling to #Cumbria #LakeDistrict please grab a brew, examine this map, and take a long hard look at your conscience.’

People have also been warned not to travel to Wales to exercise in rural areas.

What’s happening in your area? Contact Isabel at [email protected] with any information that would be useful for us to share with community pharmacy colleagues