Roadmap to recovery is welcomed but can we keep up with Boris Johnson's timeline?
Boris Johnson’s gamble that Covid will soon be under control and manageable raised hopes this week that life will be back to normal by summer and businesses will be bouncing back across England - Harrogate included.
Criticised for being late with the first lockdown last March, the Government’s rapid rollout of the Covid vaccine offered the Prime Minister the opportunity to break the cycle of virus and restrictions with a roadmap out of lockdown by June.
Harrogate’s leaders have largely welcomed the Prime Minister’s four-stage timetable back to normality with the caveat from businesses that economic support needs to be extended if they are to claw back some of their losses and survive until summer.
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones welcomed what he described as Boris Johnson’s “cautious” approach which would see non-essential shops reopen by April 12 and the hospitality and tourism sector return on May 17.
Mr Jones said: “The Prime Minister has announced a cautious, staged approach to re-instating our normal lives and I think this is the correct approach. I know there are some who think the vaccination is an instant ‘get out of jail free’ card but we reopen too quickly and we see infections, deaths and hospital admissions rise then it means we will have to reimpose restrictions again to protect the NHS and save lives.”
The Prime Minister has warned that the implementation of his roadmap would depend entirely on the data continuing to show good progress against the virus, but is “very optimistic” that all England’s Covid-19 restrictions will be able to be fully lifted on 21 June, but warned “nothing can be guaranteed”.
The gradual easing of rules will be done in stages with the aim of removing all restrictions on social contact, businesses and events by 21 June, although this will depend on several key tests, including the success of the vaccine rollout and keeping infection rates low.
Mr Johnson said of the June date: “I’m hopeful but obviously nothing can be guaranteed and it all depends on the way we continue to be prudent and continue to follow the guidance in each stage.
“Genuinely, because of the immense possibilities of the rollout, because science has given us this way of creating a shield around our population, we can really look at that June 21 date with some optimism.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to get there.”
One of the doctors in charge of leading Harrogate’s Covid-19 vaccination programme this week hailed the ‘amazing’ community for the success of the speed of the rollout of the vaccine in our district.
Dr Richard Fletcher said: “The whole vaccination programme across the Harrogate district has been a collaborative effort - from the GPs and staff at all our practices, to the amazing volunteers.”
Some doubt has been expressed by parts of Harrogate’s business community over whether the Government will really be able to stick to its timetable.
But the good news for Harrogate’s hard-pressed food and drink industry is that the Government’s phased approach to lifting Covid restrictions means there will be no curfew under step two of the relaxing of England’s lockdown restrictions and there will be no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a ‘substantial meal’.
With holidays, hairdressers, sport and weddings all set to emerge from the shadow of Covid, only the arts world fears being shackled to restrictions and rules.
But optimism is starting to revive. Yesterday saw Harrogate International Festival announce it hoped to hold July’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival as a live ‘real’ non-digital event.