Leighton Buzzard businesses react with caution to so-called Covid-19 'Freedom Day'

'Should we just pretend that this so-called Freedom Day means we can forget about it [Covid-19]? We need to be mindful and protect ourselves and protect other people.'

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 10:41 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 10:44 am

Leighton Buzzard 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.

Yesterday (July 12) Boris Johnson confirmed that England would go ahead with the lifting of rules next Monday, 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.

Leighton Buzzard High Street. Photo: Jane Russell.

Shortly before the announcement, the LBO spoke to local businesses to see what their plans were should the easing go ahead.

Gennaro Borrelli chairman of LB First and owner of Gennaro's Organic Hair & Beauty, Bridge Street, said: "Lots of customers have been asking us 'What are you going to do?' They have asked because they feel nervous, particularly about places such as beauty salons and hair salons where we are in close contact with them.

"From what we have been gauging our customers would prefer to carry on with masks for the time being. At the moment, sadly Leighton-Linslade has got the highest infection rate of anywhere in the whole of Central Beds. This last week it was Leighton South, the previous week was Leighton North."

He continued: "We are bound by the health and safety law and we have to make sure our businesses premises are safe for all our customers and this includes Covid-19; regardless of what Boris Johnson says, the heath and safety law hasn't changed.

"While masks may not be mandatory [going forward], the government still strongly recommends that they should be worn in certain places.

"If someone traces cases of Covid back to your premises, the insurance will want to know about your risk assessments and what you have done to mitigate these risks."

Gennaro and team are planning to keep measures in place, including: mask-wearing, hand sanitiser, social distancing, ventilation, clean and fresh gowns, and regular sanitising of chairs, units and other touch points.

He added: "If we keep infection under control, we won't be at risk of going back into another lockdown or tiered measures."

Adrienne Lowther, owner of Adrienne's Flowers in Ropa Court, told the LBO that they would continue to implement their existing Covid-19 safety measures beyond July 19.

She said: "I think we will continue to have a mask policy to be honest, because we are quite a small shop and normally have three members of staff in.

"We also limit one person or one family at a time in our shop.

"We have got to protect ourselves and our staff and I'm sure other businesses will be the same."

She added: "Everyone has abided by our rules and we have had no problem. Thank you to our staff who have supported us during the pandemic and thank you to our customers for abiding by our shop rules."

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 LBO land business maintaining caution is Stratton Food Hall, Market Square.

Andrew Stanton, managing partner of Stratton Food Hall, said: "It's quite straight forward really. Obviously, you have a small minority of people who come into the town that don't care and never have cared and with that in mind, the staff are going to have a choice of whether they wear masks.

"There has to be protection for our staff and their families.

"We will still also maintain some sort of spacial awareness. The social distancing within the shop will be kept in place, but we will be putting in another service bay, so instead of two people at the deli counter, we can now have three."

He added: "I think the vaccine is working up and down the country. From my perspective you can't just keep stopping and starting life continuously for something that could be around for a long, long time. As long as people are careful, we are in a position where we have to move on and move forward."

In Heath and Reach, Jake Moxhall, co-owner of The Axe and Compass, said: "We are going to continue as we are to be honest.

"We will continue with the table service, keeping tables distanced, rather than trying to cram everything in.

"People are comfortable and still not sure about removing social distancing. We will be encouraging people to stay in small groups. We have also had quite a few private parties, which we will be introducing again, and we have quite a big outdoor space.

"We will still be allowing bigger tables as well but I think people feel safer with the way things are, and staff will still be wearing face masks.

He added: "I know we are allowed to lift restrictions but some people still don't feel 100 per cent. Everyone has a reason behind it, so we have to keep that safety there.

"I think it's [lifting the restrictions] is a lot all at once, The last thing we want as a business is to have to go back into lockdown. We'd be back at square one."

"Thank you to everyone; we have had so much support from local people."

Gennaro concluded: "Although hospitalisations are very low compared to January, the death rate is creeping up and some of the scientists are beginning to get a little bit concerned if it goes on, saying that it could be as many as 100,000 infections by the end of August.

"Thank goodness the vaccination process has been a huge success, but there's this worry and concern about long Covid; we mustn't forget that it has been just as devastating.

"We are hearing about 10 to 20 to 30 deaths per day, but people are reacting completely differently now. How would you feel if it was your loved one, then hearing people say it's only 10 people?

"Should we just pretend that this so-called Freedom Day means we can forget about it [Covid-19]? We need to be mindful and protect ourselves and protect other people."

How do you feel about the decision to relax restrictions? If you run a local business what stance are you taking? Email [email protected]