Biggleswade and Sandy businesses react with caution to so-called Covid-19 'Freedom Day'
'We've got to protect ourselves and use common sense'
Biggleswade and Sandy businesses have reacted to the Prime Minister's 'Freedom Day' on July 19, with owners and retailers taking a cautious approach to the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
On Monday (July 12) Boris Johnson confirmed that England would go ahead with the lifting of rules next week, meaning the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some enclosed public places will be removed. However, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, said they were still "expected and recommended" in crowded indoor areas.
The news also means that nightclubs will be allowed to reopen and limits on capacity will be removed for all venues and events.
However, with infections on the rise in Central Bedfordshire, the Chronicle spoke to retailers and business owners to understand the approach they would take.
Adrian Threlfall, of Sweet Alley, Biggleswade, said: "I will still be wearing my mask in the shop and when I'm out delivering. A lot of my customers are from the older generation and out of courtesy to them it's better to have a mask on.
"I will wear mine, but I won't expect customers to. However, I think people will use their own common sense.
"The support we have got [during the pandemic] has been brilliant."
On the Government's decision to push ahead with Freedom Day, he added: "They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they don't, they will be blamed for holding back, and if they do, they will be blamed for not being careful enough. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
"We've got to protect ourselves and use common sense."
Tracy Crossland, owner of Mama's Coffee Shop in Sandy, said: "I'll still be wearing a face shield, so people will still feel comfortable and I will still be doing table service; the less people milling around the better. My customers are more the older generation and I want them to feel safe.
"If customers want to wear a mask then feel free, but it won't be a necessity. My tables are not changing and my set up is not changing."
She added: "It's been slow over the last couple of weeks. I just think people are still being a bit cautious, being safe. We still have our regulars coming in.
"I think a lot of people are worried about giving their details to the [NHS Covid-19] app. They don't want to self-isolate.
"They would rather it had a 'check in' and 'check out' time, so it's more controlled."
Going forward, large event organisers and businesses will be encouraged to use 'Covid Passports' - proof of negative test, recovery from coronavirus, or double-vaccination, - in "high-risk" settings in order to minimise the risk of infections.
However, the Prime Minster told the House of Commons that he would not rule out introducing restrictions again if, for example, a new variant was causing a "real problem".
Meanwhile, another business in Chronicle country that is maintaining caution is Gilby's Of Sandy.
Mark Flitney, owner of the hardware store, said: "I'm going to wear my mask all the time. Obviously, it's safer for me. And I think people know now about social distancing.
"I've got a sign up on the door saying 'Face Masks Required', but I'm going to change the sign over the weekend to say that wearing a mask will be advised.
"I think a lot of people are still going to wear a mask when they go out. People can make up their own minds whether they feel safe."
Talking about the future and the Government's decision, he added: "We've got to get back to some sort of normal. It's been a constant backwards and forwards with this mask wearing and isolation. We've just got to carry on as best we can.
"But I think we should have done what Scotland has done [face masks will remain mandatory and there will still be some restrictions in place from July 19]. Come winter we'll back in lockdown I think..."
Thanh Vuong, nail technician at American Nails, Biggleswade, said: "I will still keep all the protective screens for myself and for my clients. I want to protect my clients and some won't feel comfortable being so close to other people.
"I will still wear a mask and my staff will still wear them - in the industry, we wear them anyway because of the dust!
"For the clients, it will be their choice whether or not they wear a mask. I think people don't mind. We've had everything in place for a long time now - they are used to it.
"It was a big decision to give us our 'freedom'. I'm not sure - hopefully there won't be another lockdown!"
Mr Vuong added: "This time round things are picking up but it's still quite quiet. It's not like it used to be in the summer term.
"A lot of people still don't have the money or they are not going travelling, so won't have their nails done for their holiday.
"I just hope everything can go back to normal."
Councillor Madeline Russell, Mayor of Biggleswade, said: "It is great that life can begin to get back to normal but some people will be more comfortable than others with the removal of restrictions and we have to be respectful of differing attitudes to mask wearing and social distancing.
"Biggleswade has not been as badly hit by the pandemic as many other places but businesses have struggled and some have gone or downsized. At the same time, some new businesses have opened in the town centre. I hope everyone will ‘Buy Biggleswade’ as much as they can and feel able to enjoy socialising again in the town's restaurants and pubs.
"The past 16 months have been very difficult for everybody and I am grateful for all that was done by so many people to keep us all safe and to look after the more vulnerable residents in the town. That community spirit will help us through the next weeks and months to get back to how we all want to live."
A Sandy Town Council spokeswoman, said: "Like people around the country, the council is both glad and cautious about England moving to Step 4 of the government’s roadmap on Monday.
"Whilst the move towards normality and greater personal freedom will be welcomed by many, we must all understand that the virus is still in our communities and exercising our freedom comes alongside continued risks which need to be managed appropriately by individuals, families and friends.
"The council would like to thank all the people of Sandy and Beeston for the patience, community spirit and self-sacrifice which they have demonstrated since the start of the pandemic. We are especially indebted to all those volunteers and key workers whose invaluable work has supported our community throughout this crisis. The road ahead may not be easy but we trust our residents will continue to pull together and support each other along the way."