What Harrogate thinks of Boris Johnson's scrapping of Covid rules in England on July 19
The prime minister may have trumpeted his renewed intention to end all Covid restrictions in less than two week’s time but there remains a circumspect air among Harrogate’s business community - even if it has been welcomed.
Boris Johnson’s show of faith in the roadmap to lifting all remaining Covid rules in England from July 19, was met with relief by people the Harrogate Advertiser spoke to, relief that is, with an accompanying note of caution.
Sara Ferguson, chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) said the sweeping away of all restrictions and, in particular the ‘rule of six’ for gatherings, table service in pubs and restaurants, capacity limits in theatres and cinemas, would make a substantial difference - even if it wasn’t quite totally a ‘big bang’ for the economy.
“This is the news the hospitality and events industries have been waiting to hear - and many will say it’s long overdue,” she said.
“For the last 12 months we have had to contend with social distancing, the wearing of masks, the rule of six, tiers, what-constitutes-a-substantial meal, three full lockdowns, outdoor dining only, table service and one-way-systems.
“Twelve months ago, as the first national lockdown was being lifted, the message BID promoted was Harrogate Welcomes You.
"This is still very much the case.
“But, if some businesses decide to retain some Covid measures, customers must respect this, just as businesses must respect those customers who wish to continue to wear face masks.”
David Simister, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said: “There are many businesses who will be breathing a massive sigh of relief, and on the surface, this is great news for our local economy.
“There are countless businesses and self-employed people who have not been able to earn a living since a year last March.
"Last week, I heard one Ripon businessman speaking on national radio saying he had been forced to cash in his life savings because the events industry, in which he operated, has been closed for so long.
“This is now an opportunity for these businesses to get back on their feet and, together with those unable to fully reopen due to social distancing, make the most of this newfound freedom, and finally bring staff off furlough.
“The economy is in recovery mode, and with staff coming back to in offices this will also give it another boost.
“But we should sound a note of caution that whilst the PM has announced his full Covid relaxation, it has to be passed by Parliament.”
Also lending a note of caution was Sue Kramer of Commercial Street Retailers Group.
She said: “Yes we can breathe a cautious sigh of relief but people will react how they see fit with some just getting on with it and some still being careful. It will definitely be good news for shops and footfall.”
There’s no need to dig very far to work out the reason for a degree of uncertainty as to how the return to normality will play out.
If the beginning of lockdown back in March 2020 felt like entering uncharted territory, so does its ending.
Having invited all of us to live with Covid with a message of taking personal responsibilty once final Covid lockdown easing takes place, ministers have admitted to uncertainty over what’s to come later this year.
New health secretary Sajid Javid said this week infection numbers could easily rise above 100,000 a day over the summer as the Delta variant spreads.
And the return to normality, he added, was likely to take “quite a long time”.
As well as the threat of the virus, there’s also confusion about what sort of situation will result from leaving decision-making over Covid precautions, such as the wearing of face masks, up to individual businesses and citizens.
Boris Johnson’s commitment to sticking to the final stage of unlocking on July 19 has pleased his own backbenchers, even if Labour Party leader Keir Starmer claimed yesterday that England was heading for a “summer of chaos and confusion” over self isolation.
Simon Cotton, managing director of the HRH Group which owns the Yorkshire Hotel, The White Hart Hotel and the Fat Badger pub, said July 19 may not be the final word on Covid.
“It is a massive step forward for all in the hospitality business and allows us to breathe a sigh of relief yes, " Mr Cotton said.
"Whilst I for one am looking forward to walking up to a bar and being able to order a pint and stand wherever I want to drink it, there are factors we will have to consider carefully.
"The more that there is no rules, the quicker the Covid case rates rise.
"As Boris has said, it’s not the end yet.”
New research by the British Chambers of Commerce shows two in five businesses are worried about possible future lockdowns as a barrier to the economy returning to pre-pandemic levels.
As Harrogate now prepares for the big reopening, the most troubling question at the back of people’s minds is whether lockdown restrictions are truly about to disappear forever... or will they once again return as the shadow of Covid is cast over our business sector?
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