Brixham hotels and shops fear 'half-term washout' over parasite breakout

Brixham Harbour
Brixham is experiencing an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis, an infectious vomiting bug -Credit:DevonLive

Tourism businesses in Brixham are fearing a 'half-term washout' due to the on-going contamination of its water supply. South West Water confirmed the outbreak of cryptosporidiosis on Wednesday, May 17, and have since told residents and businesses that water should not be drunk without it being boiled and cooled first to kill off the cryptosporidium parasite.

Around 16,000 households and businesses have been advised not to use their tap water for drinking or brushing their teeth. Public Health said 22 cases of cryptosporidiosis had been confirmed in Brixham and up to 100 people had reported symptoms to their GP.

Those affected have experienced a range of symptoms including watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea or vomiting, a mild fever, and loss of appetite. South West Water say they are continuing to work round-the-clock to fix the issue but it is feared problems could take 'at least a week' to resolve.

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And those living and working in the town, with a population of more than 17,000, say the fears are even more acute as they rely heavily on the tourism industry with the May half-term break traditionally one of the busiest in the season. Those running hotels and guest houses say people are already cancelling trips while shopkeepers fear a lack of tourism footfall could have a major impact on their businesses.

Sian, a 51 year-old shop owner in the village who runs ‘Sandy Toes’, a local shop selling jewellery, sentimental gifts, cards and pottery, has been a resident of Brixham for 12 years. She said: “It’s half term next week and lots of people are saying they won’t come down because of the water situation. Obviously I rely heavily on tourism. People around me are concerned.

“I think it’s one of those unfortunate things really. I have a small following of people but I rely extremely heavily on tourists so if I don’t have a good tourist season I’m in big trouble. To make a profit I totally rely on tourists.

“It is concerning for me because if I don’t have a boost from tourism then it’s a real knock to the business. I’m not worried, but it’s in the back of my mind whether it will impact us. I’m concerned for businesses - including restaurants.”

Carrie Toms, 46, head of bookings at Harbour View Guest House, has lived in Brixham for the last 22 years. She said: “It has affected business, people have been very concerned about it. We’ve had a few cancellations. All we can do is give advice we’re being given and use boiled water for cleaning teeth. We’re not always guaranteed to resell the rooms that are cancelled so it could indeed have an impact on the business

“It’s just the situation we have. I just think people want reassurance as to what the situation is and all we can do is tell them what we’ve been told.”

Other businesses have also expressed concern about the polluted water. Tessa Govier, 67, is a senior carer from Belmont Nursing Home. She has been a resident of Brixham for nine years.

She said: “I was horrified because I live in Brixham and it said you’re in an affected area. It’s a total inconvenience. I normally like to drink from the tap. I think it’s put a lot people off coming here. I’ve heard that people have cancelled bed and breakfast bookings. I think it will put a lot of people off coming. I presume once it’s sorted it will be ok.

“It’s been a total inconvenience for the business. We’ve got residents who can pick up a jug but can’t unscrew a bottle top, so we have to do it for them.

“They told us not to worry on Tuesday, but it came out yesterday that it was all positive. South West water delivered a lot of bottles of water yesterday so all our residents have got water in their room. At least we’ve found the source now. The homes that have had a letter are the only ones compensated. I think the whole of Brixham should be compensated, personally."

Dozens of local residents have already fallen ill after South West Water confirmed a trace of the cryptosporidium parasite was discovered in the water. Locals have been advised to only drink boiled and cooled tap water with authorities setting up bottled water stations.

Devon’s tourism boss, Sally Everton, said she has “major concern” over the impact of the cryptosporidiosis outbreak. She said: “The national media coverage that we’ve had could have a knock on effect to our forward bookings. But also it’ll have a knock on effect to our what I would call instantaneous bookings like the short lead-in so people will probably look at Devon, rather than just Brixham and Paignton, and think ‘no, we’ll steer clear for the time being’ and that is a major concern to me.”

Laura Flowerdew, South West Water’s chief customer and digital officer, said: “We sincerely apologise for the impact this is having on our customers in the Brixham and Alston areas. Protecting the health of our customers and providing them with a clean, fresh drinking water supply is our number one priority and we will continue to work around the clock to make sure that happens as soon as possible.”