Face masks: We can still have a great Christmas say Harrogate businesses but warn against another lockdown 'disaster'

Harrogate can still enjoy a festive trading bonanza this Christmas despite the return of face masks say the town’s business leaders - but a new lockdown against Covid would be an economic disaster, they warn.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 3rd December 2021, 12:10 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd December 2021, 12:16 pm
The Father Christmas Experience at The Crown Hotel is just one of the many great events being held across the town in the build up to the big day in a collaboration between Harrogate Borough Council, BID and businesses.
The Father Christmas Experience at The Crown Hotel is just one of the many great events being held across the town in the build up to the big day in a collaboration between Harrogate Borough Council, BID and businesses.

As the Government reimposed an element of restrictions earlier this week for the first time since July in the face of the Omicron variant, the hope is further measures are not waiting in the wings in the run-up to a crucial Christmas trading period.

David Simister, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive said: “By following the Government’s measures of wearing masks in shops and whilst travelling by public transport, we hope this will prevent any further Covid restrictions.”

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“Harrogate is currently the busiest I’ve seen it in a long time, and I’m hoping having to wear masks in shops and on buses and trains won’t affect this. It’s a small sacrifice to make, but one that I hope will prevent the need for further measures.

“We do need to ensure that customers continue to have the confidence to come to Harrogate to shop, eat and drink.”

With Harrogate’s biggest ever programme of festive street events coming up to support the town’s retail and hospitality sectors - thanks to a link-up between business groups and the local authorities - traders are hoping that the pattern of previous Covid alerts is not repeated.

A number of the Government’s own MPs are believed to be unhappy about the reintroduction of any more serious restrictions.

Tory backbenchers point to the success of the vaccination programme and a multi-billion-pound hit to the economy as two reasons why a return to lockdown should be avoided at all costs.

Harrogate business leaders say they are supportive of the Government’s decision to make face coverings compulsory again in shops and on public transport and keen to play their part in keeping customers safe.

But they are also keeping their fingers crossed this week’s announcement of a massive expansion of the booster jab campaign pays off.

Harrogate BID Chair Sara Ferguson said: “The message we are conveying is that Harrogate town is open and so are all our wonderful, shops, restaurants and entertainment. And that is how we want to see it remain.

“That’s why we are urging the public to follow the latest Government rules, not only to avoid the reintroduction of tiers or a lockdown, but to keep staff and customers safe at the same time as reducing the risk of spreading the virus.

“At the moment the new Covid situation and new measures doesn’t impact on festive trading in Harrogate - and long may it continue.

“The run up to Christmas is traditionally the busiest trading period of the year, and that’s how we want it to remain.

“That’s why we are asking visitors coming into town to wear masks in shops, and on public transport, and make use of hand sanitisers where available.”

So far only a small number of cases of the Omicron variant have been discovered in England but Mrs Ferguson, a business owner, herself, is prepared for the worst.

She said: “The last thing anyone wants is further restrictions. However, I feel we have to brace ourselves for the potential of that happening.”

The Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, is the fifth such to be detected since the beginning of the pandemic.

Although previous strains to emerge - such as the Delta varaint - have not proven to have as significant impact on transmission of the virus and hospital admissions as originally predicted, the fear is the mere threat of more restrictions may deter potential customers and lead to cancellations in the food and drink sector, in particular.

Already, there are national news stories of towns and cities elsewhere in England seeing a growing number of cancellations of bookings for bars, pubs and restaurants.

Hospitality industry bosses have said mixed messages from the Government, including some of its own scientifc advisors calling for more robust action against the Omicron variant, such as a ban on unnecessary socialising and Christmas parties, are part of the problem.

Despite reassurances by Government ministers and Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Christmas will not be cancelled this time, the chatter of speculation is in itself causing concern over the ‘L’ word.

Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, David Simister said businesses could not afford to return to lockdown.

“With a huge swathe of the adult population double vaccinated, and many already having received their booster jab, I hope this, together with mask wearing regulations, will prevent the need for further restrictions,” he said.

“Many businesses are finally back on their feet, and a lockdown of any restriction would spell disaster for them.

“The economy also could not afford another lockdown.”