Roadmap blow: This is what Harrogate people and businesses can expect from Boris Johnson's decision today
Harrogate traders are bracing themselves today for the news they long feared - a delay to the Government's roadmap.
Stage four of the government's roadmap out of lockdown would have seen all legal limits on social contact removed.
But it now looks inevitable that the planned unlocking of Covid rules on June 21 will be delayed by four weeks, national news outlets are reporting.
Government ministers have let it be known that most current coronavirus rules are set to remain in place until the middle of July, though the exact details will not be revealed until a press conference by Prime Minister Boris Johnson tonight at an expected time of 6pm.
That could mean capacity limits for sports, pubs and cinemas will remain, and nightclubs would stay closed, which could prove crucial to the very survival of some hospitality venues and would, many argue, be a disaster for the arts.
Roadmap delay: Economic implications
Traders nationally have complained this would have a major impact on hard-pressed businesses and jobs in the hospitality sector.
Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director the British Chambers of Commerce, warned that, should the full reopening of the economy be delayed, the Government had to be prepared to extend existing support until all sectors were able to fully trade again.
It's a concern even shared in Harrogate by much of the business community.
Last week Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID) manager Matthew Chapman said: “We understand protecting public health is important, but for a number of businesses, a two-week delay could be two weeks too long, and the difference between reopening and never reopening."
The economic blow of the delay is likely to be felt strongest in cafes, bars and restaurants whose income has been hit not only by lockdowns but also rules limiting capacity,
David Dresser, owner of Fashion House Bistro on Swan Road in Harrogate, said once again it was the hospitality sector that was feeling the economic pain.
Mr Dresser said: “Once again, the hospitality and events industries are plunged into a world of uncertainty. June 21 was a date we were all working to.
"We have been making arrangements to stage a number of events.
“We have now reached the point where a significant number of the population has been vaccinated.
“We need to accept Covid is here to stay, and not shut down every time a new strain of the virus is found.”
Roadmap delay: Political implications
In his original announcement of the roadmap back to normality in February, Boris Johnson repeatedly stressed that lockdown would be eased cautiously, and he would be guided by “data not dates”.
But the PM also vowed his map was a "one way road to freedom" and insisted there would be no turning back.
As has happened at most points throughout the pandemic, there have been as many opinions on what to do next about the final stage of England’s reopening roadmap on June 21 from health experts and scientists as there are strains of the virus.
But the debate is not only medical but political.
A substantial number of the Government’s own backbenchers are convinced the success of the vaccination programme has made any delay unnecessary.
And they also argue sticking to the original June 21 date in the roadmap is an economic imperative, particularly for the long-suffering hospitality industry.
There is speculation the Government may offer to sweeten the pill by allowing weddings with up to 100 guests from as early as next week to counter the blow of a delay on full reopening.
But there may still be a substantial backbench rebellion by Conservative MPs when Mr Johnson's latest change of heart is put to a House of Commons vote later this month
Roadmap delay: The medical and scientific debate
All this comes amid a backdrop of rising cases of the Delta variant, forcing the Government to take action in recent days in hotspots in Lancashire such as Manchester and Bolton.
Some advisors on Sage, the Government’s advisory committee on emergencies, are urging caution to avoid a bigger wave.
They say a delay to coincide with the end of the school summer term would reduce the risks and enable more people to be vaccinated.
But others argue the vaccine rollout already means the relationship between cases and hospitalisations has changed.
A senior NHS boss Chris Hopson, The NHS Providers chief executive, said last week he believed the UK’s vaccination programme had broken the link between infections, hospital admissions and deaths, and hospitals were reporting fewer and younger patients.
That argument appears to have lost the battle for now.
Roadmap delay: How Harrogate businesses feel
Harrogate people and businesses will be disappointed at the roadmap delay, in particular, anyone whose livelihood is in the hospitality sector.
But traders remain resilient in the district. Speaking last week as speculation about the delay reached fever pitch, many showed a cool head.
Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser before the weekend, Sue Kramer, a prominent member of Commercial Street Retailers Group and owner of Crown Jewellers, said a delay would be disappointing.
If the roadmap delay was to last longer than suggested, she said she would favour a return to localised restrictions so areas with low rates of the virus could still trade.
Sue Kramer said:“Since restrictions eased it has been fantastic to see both locals, and, maybe surprisingly, a lot of visitors venturing to Harrogate, which has been a boost for retail and hospitality.
“The feedback on Commercial Street has been that a sense of normality is definitely returning and customers were happy and grateful for this.
She continued: “We have been blessed in the Harrogate district with relatively low infection rates, a superb vaccination centre and an excellent take up of the vaccine. We realise that cannot be said for every area.
She added: “If the current restrictions remain for a few more weeks, or even longer, it would be disappointing but preferable to another surge and tighter restrictions being reimposed, which would be a disaster.
“It would be better for low risk areas such as ours to have restrictions lifted locally.”
Covid restrictions: What are the rules at the moment
At the moment, England remains in stage three of the Government's roadmap out of lockdown.
Although the last rules change on May 17 opened up indoor hospitality and household mixing, there are still limits in place.
Until we enter stage four, a maximum of six people or members of two different households can meet indoors, including in pubs and other hospitality settings.
Up to 30 people can meet outdoors, including at weddings.
In addition, social distancing rules remain (one-metre plus) and face masks must be worn indoors everywhere except at home or in the office, including in shops, bars, restaurants, public transport, indoor public venues and any arts venues such a cinemas which have been able to reopen
People are still being advised to work from home.
Nightclubs are closed, as are most theatres, and there are restrictions in place on large events such as festivals and sport, although a number of test events allowing larger crowds are allowed.
Finally, the traffic light system for international travel remains a blight on holidays abroad.
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