Road map out of lockdown and what Harrogate can expect from it
Will today's announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a 'road map' out of lockdown bring good news for the economy, is the question businesses in Harrogate's retail and hospitality sectors are asking.
It is already understood from various Government statements at the weekend that schools in England will reopen on March 8, signalling a partial end at least to the nation's third full lockdown.
The other major change expected in today's announcement for the easing lockdown as infection rates drop and vaccination figures soar is to allow some social contact for families and friends outdoors and the return of some sporting activities.
Despite the apparent turn of the tide in the battle against Covid, all the signs are the Prime Minister will be “cautious about this approach” and use data before making any future decisions on lockdown.
Amid continuing warnings on the risks of ending lockdown from scientists, restrictions are expected to be lifted in five-week phases under the Government's new plan, with four tests required to be met in order for each stage to move forward based on the data on virus rates and death figures, virus mutations, vaccination figures and hospital admissions.
What has been absence in minister's remarks recently is any hint of movement on shopping, holidays, the hospitality sector or the arts and entertainment.
Looking at the pattern last year for easing Covid restrictions, non-essential shops, bars, the hospitality sector and the arts may still have to wait months for significant change.
Harrogate's hard-pressed town centre is itching to get back to normal after a dreadful 11 months of low income - even though it supports the need to defeat the pandemic and keep customers safe.
What a Harrogate business has said about easing lockdown
One of Harrogate's leading independent cafes, Baltzersen’s, famed for its own-baked pasties, Scandi-themed food dishes and own purpose-built bakery, has always taken a cautious and level-headed approach to the situation since the first lockdown last March.
But its owner, Paul Rawlinson is convinced that more Government financial is needed if the hospitality sector is to emerge eventually from lockdown in any sort of healthy shape.
Mr Rawlinson said: "Baltzersen’s, like many other hospitality businesses, are finding the current lockdown very challenging indeed.
"It’s hard for us to put a date on the lifting of restrictions - we’d just say it needs to come as quickly as the science allows.
"I think the scale of the situation makes it challenging for local government to have a significant impact.
"Nationally the extension of the 5% VAT rate, a further business rates holiday, continuation of furlough and grants to see businesses through until such time as things reopen are almost the bare minimum to ensure the survival of many indies.
"But hospitality is a very resilient and agile industry. I still hold hopes that we can have a positive 2021, but the longer lockdown and restrictions are in place the more fragile those hopes become."
What the Government has said so far about easing lockdown
March 8: All schools will open with outdoor after-school sports and activities allowed. Recreation in a public space - such as a park - will be allowed between two people, meaning they would be allowed to sit down for a coffee, drink or picnic.
March 29: Outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed. It is understood this will include gatherings in private gardens.
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis or basketball courts will reopen and organised adult and children's sport, such as grassroots football, will also return.
People will once again be able to travel out of their areas - although guidance will likely still recommend staying local, and overnight stays will not be permitted.
Today's timetable for announcements
3.30pm: A statement to MPs on the 'road map' to end lockdown by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.
7pm: Prime Minister to appear at a televised news conference for journalists to answer questions on the 'road map'.
Flashback: What happened in 2020 on lockdown rules
March 23, 2020: Full lockdown begins.
June 1, 2020: Some years at primary schools are are allowed to return.
June 15, 2020: Non-essential shops can reopen.
June 15, 2020: Bars and cafes can open for takeaways.
July 4, 2020: Bars and cafes reopen fully with safety rules, as do cinemas.
August 26, 2020: Secondary schools allowed to reopen.
September, 2020: A return to work is permitted - with safety rules.
October 12, 2020: 3 Tier regional system of Covid restrictions introduced.
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