DAILY life in the United Kingdom seems to have changed rather dramatically in the space of a fortnight, as the coronavirus plays havoc with people's livelihoods across the globe.

West Somerset has the benefit of being a rural and sparsely-populated area, but also has a local economy that is heavily reliant on tourism, and a large proportion of residents over the age of 70.

It would appear there is going to be a very uncertain few months ahead.

In Minehead on Wednesday morning, most things were the same, the majority of shops and businesses remained open, and a lot of people were going about their daily business more or less as usual - however there were also a few stark differences.

Somerset County Gazette:

RUNNING LOW: The hand sanitizer shelf at Tesco in Minehead on Wednesday morning

In the supermarkets there were some empty shelves, particularly when it came to toilet and kitchen roll, hand sanitizer, pasta, and some canned goods. 

Somerset County Gazette:

EMPTY: The kitchen roll and toilet roll sections in Morrisons, Minehead on Wednesday morning

Meanwhile Iceland opened especially for those over the age of 60 for two hours on Wednesday morning (March 18).

The store was operating a one-in, one-out policy in order to limit the numbers in the shop - although given shoppers were then queuing close together outside, you have to wonder how effective the measure was.

Somerset County Gazette:

UNUSUAL: Shoppers queue outside Iceland in Minehead - which was only letting a limited number into the store on Wednesday morning

The local tourism industry is unfortunately seeing some major effects already, with Easter on the horizon.

West Somerset Railway has postponed its first running services of the season, and Dunster Castle has closed for the time-being.

Somerset County Gazette:

OFF TRACK: West Somerset Railway will have no services for now

On Wednesday, Butlins in Minehead said it would be closing until April 20, a decision which was welcomed by MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

A spokesman for Butlin's said:"We know how disappointing this will be for all those guests who are booked to stay with us during this time but hope that they will understand why we have made this very difficult decision." 

Butlins came in for huge criticism in the town for continuing to host weekend events which attracted more than 5,000 guests from all over the country.

But the adult weekend which finished on Sunday will be the last. Another, similar event scheduled for this weekend has been cancelled as has the annual Spring Harvest religious convention scheduled for April.

Families in and around Minehead had been raising a petition calling for the centre’s closure, particularly in view of the fact that many other, smaller events in the area were being called off.

Somerset County Gazette:

CLOSED FOR A MONTH: Butlin's in Minehead

Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “I hope my constituents in West Somerset will be reassured that what they saw as an unacceptable risk has now been removed,” he said.

“My only regret is that it has taken this long for the common-sense decision finally to arrive and to put an end to the worry and uncertainty."

Somerset County Gazette:

OPEN FOR NOW: Tropiquaria

Chris Moiser, who runs Tropiquaria Zoo near Watchet, said it would remain open as long as possible, but said the virus and associated restrictions could have a potentially 'devastating effect' on the zoo world.

"With much of the collection being outside we believe that the risk to visitors who come to us is realistically no greater than exercising in the park, as long as everyone is sensible and continues to follow the normal precautions," Mr Moiser said.

"However the restrictions will mean not just a massive reduction in income from visitor numbers but greater difficulty in getting supplies.

"As with every crisis though it does bring out the best and worst in some people. One individual stole all the toilet paper at the weekend from the ladies lavatories (we do have adequate supplies though).

"A season ticket holder then donated a spare freezer so that we can keep a little more animal food."

There has also been a lot of goodwill in the community already, with community support groups already up and running in Porlock, Minehead and Watchet among others.

Exmoor National Park sustainable economy manager Dan James helped set up a Minehead Facebook Group.

He said: "On Sunday morning I woke up to see a thread on a local site highlighting a Coronavirus support group elsewhere.

"Everyone was saying what a great idea but no one was doing it here.

"So there and then I set the group up on my phone. Within 24 hours we had more than 1,000 members and so many offers of help and support.

"The best bit is it is already working. For example: Offering reassurance to people who live far away but have relatives here.

"Someone needed a particular food type for their young autistic child and this was found and collected from Taunton for them, and there are many more examples."