July 19: Many businesses continue with safety precautions as legal restrictions lift
- Credit: PA
With many celebrating 'Freedom Day' (July 19), others may find themselves erring on the side of caution.
As of today, people living in and visiting England are no longer under any legal restrictions, with limits on social contact done away with. Venues can now safely open with no capacity limits, and face masks are now no longer mandatory.
The government will instead ask people to make informed decisions about how to manage the risk to themselves and others.
"Please, please, please be cautious," PM Boris Johnson said in a statement via his Twitter account. "Go forward into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people."
The overwhelming majority of businesses across our towns have maintained that they will continue to encourage mask wearing and social distancing, although respect that they have no authority over the general public.
Speaking ahead of restrictions easing, Hitchin BID's Tom Hardy told the Comet that a fair amount of businesses in the market town would continue to operate as they have been over the last nine weeks, with many bars, restaurants and other businesses sticking by the restrictions that were formally in place until 11.59pm on July 18.
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He said: "I think it's going to be an interesting process for businesses, and obviously, having all the rules around social distancing being lifted, it's going to make a big difference."
"I've spoken to some pubs who will carry on with table service; there'll be no one coming up to the bar, because they want to understand how their customers feel."
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He added: "Although Monday is 'Freedom Day', actually, for businesses, it's the start of the first day where people can make their own choices, and businesses don't quite understand what choices people want to make yet.
"There are some people that feel they are absolutely fine without a mask on, and there are some other people that don't want to do that. We've got to consider those who have not had a vaccine, or maybe aren't able to have a vaccine, that still have to continue to be careful."
Echoing BID's statement, North Herts District Council stated that all council-operated public-facing vicinities would remain cautious, and continue to implement some restrictions.
A spokesperson said: "North Herts Museum and Hitchin Town Hall will encourage the use of masks and social distancing where possible and appropriate, though this will no longer be mandatory.
"Our staff will also continue to wear masks and follow additional cleaning, hygiene and handwashing procedures for the time being to protect you and our staff."
Welcoming the relief of restrictions is Broadway Cinema & Theatre, run by Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation. In an online statement, the venue thanked patrons for their ongoing support throughout the pandemic, while also acknowledging that others may not be as ready for this next stage as they are.
"We know that you may still be a little nervous, so we have kept in place a few of our measures including extra cleaning, cashless payment only, the use of hand sanitising stations and safety screens at our tills," the cinema spokesperson said.
"We will also continue with regular fogging to deep clean the cinema screens."
Ahead of the great unlocking, Stevenage Borough Council leader Sharon Taylor said: “It is positive news that we are about see the lifting of restrictions although we do so with the understanding that some people will still be feeling nervous about COVID.
"July 19 marks an important date for individuals, families and businesses to begin to feel that things are returning to something a little more like the way it was before the COVID pandemic hit us.
"However, we do need to move forward carefully and safely, we are already seeing increases in numbers of COVID cases which reminds us of the need to continue to protect ourselves and each other.
"For those who are not yet vaccinated, now is the time to get along to one of the walk-in sessions and get the protection that vaccination offers. As restrictions are removed for now, let’s enjoy warm weather and brighter days as we look to safely get out and about again after the 16 months of lockdown restrictions."
For a round-up of what you can do now Freedom Day is upon us, click here.