Covid-19

Which house are we self-isolating in, darling?

New Zealand is far from alone in having remote beauty spots put under stress by townies heading to their second homes to self-isolate during the Covid-19 pandemic, writes Peter Bale

Norway, which has a “hytte” (hut or cabin) culture at least as entrenched as New Zealand bach life, has banned its citizens from heading to the countryside and coast and ordered those already in their huts to return to cities to avoid straining health resources in remote areas.

A friend of mine even turned the lights off in a snowbound hytte to avoid detection before reluctantly accepting the need to return to Oslo.

In Nantucket, the historic whaling town in Massachusetts, there’s profound resentment among locals at the influx of Bostonians and New Yorkers holing up in their summer houses.

In Andalusia in southern Spain, the Guardia Civil national paramilitary police is sealing off some of the famous Pueblo Blanca white towns after an influx of Madrid second-home owners when the government gave notice that a lockdown was imminent.

People in those towns are parochial at the best of times, referring to anyone not from the village as giris (loosely translated as filthy foreigners) at the best of time. Now they are blaming Madrinelos for bringing Covid-19 to their pristine villages.

In Cornwall, a sought-after retreat for wealthy Londoners, there’s resentment at the pressure incomers are putting on health services after many who could fled the imminent lockdown in London to head for their second homes. The same story is unfolding in Norfolk, Suffolk and the nicer parts of Essex as the Range Rover set move from their London homes.

A newspaper column from the pre-Covid-19 era described the kind of people we’re talking about with an overhead conversation from Waitrose, the up-market grocer: “Do we have quinoa in both houses?”

While we may poke fun at the problem there’s a profoundly serious issue.

“I have 14 beds and three ventilators,” Nantucket Cottage Hospital CEO Gary Shaw told local news site, The Lily. It has a shortage of doctors and no intensive care units for its 17,000 year-round residents, let alone the 50,000 who come in summer. “It’s straight math.”

He urged visitors to “stay off the island.”

“I won’t say which states they’re coming from, but they don't need to be here.”

New Zealand hasn’t told bach owners to go home or not travel to their second homes but in England, Health Secretary Matt Hancock made clear he didn’t regard going to your holiday home as a “necessary journey” under the terms of the measures to control virus spread.

"We've said that people should not take unnecessary journeys, no unnecessary travel and I don't regard going to your holiday home as a necessary journey,” Hancock said on BBC TV, reported by the i-paper.

Welsh political party Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price echoed the concern that out of towners were stressing local services: “Popular holiday destinations have expressed concern about a large-scale population shift into these communities due to the challenges extra demand will place on local services.”

In Norway, health minister Bent Høie was clear: "This means that everyone now has to follow the strong request of the Prime Minister to pack their cases and go home. If they do not, we will prohibit them from staying in the cabin."

[If you need a little light relief, here’s a video of the Norwegian singer Ylvis singing about The Cabin]

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