Covid: Harrogate infection rate approaches record levels as most restrictions end on 'Freedom Day'
Harrogate's coronavirus infection rate is on course to reach record levels this month as almost all legal restrictions on social contact are lifted.
Social distancing rules which have governed people's lives for over a year have finally ended today (19 July) with face masks no longer mandatory in shops and on public transport, limits on gathering gone and the work from home guidance ended.
Nightclubs, theatres and restaurants can also fully reopen, while pubs are no longer restricted to table service only.
But with Covid cases continuing to soar, there are renewed warnings about pressures on key sectors of the economy and the NHS.
The weekly rate of infections in the Harrogate district currently stands at 468 cases per 100,000 people and will soon pass the previous peak of 497 in January.
The current rate equates to around 108 new cases per day - and with many employees having to self-isolate there are worries businesses including pubs, restaurants and supermarkets could struggle to stay open.
But the number of people currently in hospital with Covid is nowhere near the levels from previous peaks – with just five patients in Harrogate as of last Wednesday.
There has also not been a virus-related death at the district hospital in over three months.
With vaccines providing protection against serious illness, the effects of the virus are very different this time round. But the big unknown is how far this rise in cases will go before the virus slows down or goes into reverse.
Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, said in a letter to residents last week that although restrictions are ending, people should still "act responsibly" as he also encouraged the continued wearing of face coverings in busy spaces.
He said: "I can sum up our approach in two words: respect and protect. We can show respect for and offer protection to ourselves and those around us by continuing to do the simple things.
"Please continue to wear your face covering in crowded spaces outdoors or indoors.
"Businesses and shops need to do all they can to protect their staff, as well as customers. They don’t want to have to close because staff are self-isolating, so wearing a facemask not only protects you, it protects other people and supports local business.
"Likewise with social distancing, some people may not feel as confident as you, so giving them space is important. Regular hand washing and sticking to well-ventilated places remains important, too.
"Above all else, it is crucial that you have your vaccination. Get your first jab as soon as you’re able – and make sure you get your second jab, too. That continues to be our best line of defence."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter