'Cheers, bon appetit and give us a hug' - Lancashire gets ready for the next step out of lockdown
It will soon be time to say “cheers, bon appetit and give us a hug” after Boris Johnson kept his word again last night on his roadmap out of lockdown.
The Prime Minister had promised to lift more restrictions from next Monday if the Covid data allowed.
And, despite the new Indian variant now “a concern”, he went ahead with plans to allow pubs and restaurants to serve customers inside, hotels to accept guests other than “essential” travellers, cinemas and museums to reopen and the easing of rules on friends and family mixing indoors.
We will also be able to indulge in a bit of “cautious hugging” which the Government believes will be beneficial to our wellbeing after more than a year without physical contact.
The relaxation is the latest stage in the Prime Minister’s move towards some degree of normality by the summer. Having introduced gradual five-weekly steps to lead the country out of cornavirus restrictions, the final release is expected on June 21 when it is hoped all legal restrictions on social contact can be lifted.
But, as with the previous deadlines, the decision will depend of the scientific data and the continued success of the UK’s vaccination programme.
Many pubs and bars will finally reopen on Monday after an earnings drought lasting the best part of a year.
But some say they will be returning in debt, not least because council “restart grants” have still not come through to help them get back in business.
One landlord told the Post the cash was intended to pay the cost of restocking the cellar, but almost five weeks after applying to South Ribble Council there was still no sign of it coming through.
“It’s an expensive business having the completely restock the cellar ready to open,” said Janine Vanden at the Black Bull in Longton, which was unable to open for outside service last month when some others did.
“We’re having to restart from scratch, but with no money to do it with. Much of our stock is now out of date, so we’ve had to throw it away. So this week we will be replenishing the cellar ready for next week.”
Like thousands of other publicans across England, Janine has spent most of the past 14 months closed. And even when she was able to open the tight Covid restrictions placed on the hospitality industry meant takings were well-down on normal.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to opening again,” she said. “But it will be under the restrictions we had for three months last summer, with the rule of six, table service and face masks.
Coun Paul Foster, leader of South Ribble Council said staff had been working “as fast as possible” to get the grants out to businesses. But the Government had introduced an “additional layer of checks” which meant things were taking longer.
“Supporting our local businesses has been one of our top priorities during the pandemic,” he said. “To date, more than £28 million in grants and support payments have been distributed to local businesses by the council.
“When a new grant or support payment is announced by Government, our teams work as fast as they can to set up the application process and to let businesses know how to apply. We then distribute the grants as soon as we are able following a successful application.
“For the Restart Grants, we have been mandated by Government guidance to carry out an additional layer of checks which have resulted in the process taking longer.”
One of Lancashire’s best-known restaurant groups says it is “ready to roll” after almost six miserable months of lockdown.
Four of San Marco’s five restaurants in the Preston area will welcome customers indoors on Monday for the first time since November as England takes the next cautious step on the road to recovery.
And director Carlo Bragagnini is expecting a busy reopening with hundreds of eager diners already booked in during the first week.
“The phone is ringing off the hook for reservations,” he said. “I think that first weekend is going to be packed.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been closed since the end of November, so we can’t wait to get back to business.”
The group’s eateries Tratorria San Marco in Much Hoole, the Italian Orchard at Broughton and both Angelo’s and Stratos in the city centre will all be ready for the big day.
The company’s fifth venue, Pinocchio’s in Walton-le-Dale, is undergoing a refurbishment following a fire last year and should be open by mid-June.
While some restaurants have been serving customers outdoors over the past month, waiting for the nod to move inside, the San Marco group decided to remain closed until they can open fully.
“It hasn’t been easy,” explained Carlo. “We’ve missed Christmas, New Year, Valentines Day, Mothers’ Day and Easter. It’s been a strange time.
“Some of our staff went back home to Italy during the lockdown, but now they are all back and have been fully quarantined in time to resume work.
“I’ve got to say the support from the Government has been exceptional with furlough and grants coming through to help us stay afloat. We’ve used the time to make improvements to the restaurants which we weren’t able to when we were open.
“The success of the vaccination programme here in England has been the main reason why we are being able to reopen.
“When you look at other countries around the world we are in a very fortunate position. My grandma in Italy is nearly 90 and she has only just had her first jab. I’ve had both mine.
“Of course restrictions here will still be in place when we open up, with the rule of six, social distancing and the use of masks. But it is still going to be brilliant to be back open and we can’t wait for June 21 when we hopefully can get back to normal - we certainly don’t want another lockdown.”
Enjoying a good film at the cinema will be possible again from Monday, although some restrictions will still apply.
The nation’s big cinema groups are all planning to reopen on that day, but on reduced capacity.
Vue, which has six venues in Lancashire including the Capitol Centre in Walton-le-Dale and St Nicholas Arcades in Lancaster, says it will be on “50 per cent occupancy” due to social distancing rules.
It says it is keen to reopen because it believes strongly in the power of “escapism.”
The group, which has spent the past few months of lockdown making improvements to some of its cinemas, says ticket sales have been going well since the May 17 reopening date was suggested.
“It’s been a long year marked by restrictions on our daily lives and we know the importance of escapism has never been stronger,” said CEO Simon Greenwood.
“We remain confident that we provide safe and controlled ways for you to enjoy much-needed out of home entertainment.”
Odeon, which operates on Preston Docks, says it is planning to open “a vast majority” of its sites on Monday and will have safety measures in place including guaranteed empty seats between customer groups. It will also have staggered show times and insist on face coverings for customers and staff.
Give us a hug . . . it’s good for you. That’s the view of scientists who say holding someone in your arms, even for a few seconds, can make you healthier and happier.
Research has shown that hugging reduces stress, can protect against illness, could boost heart health, make us happier, reduce depression, blood pressure and may even reduce pain.
So Boris Johnson’s proposed lifting of the ban on close contact - albeit to allow only “cautious hugging” - could help lift the country’s mood as we slowly emerge from more than a year of restrictions.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said at the weekend that the Government wants “friendly contact” between people to be restored.
But Professor Cath Noakes, who is on the Sage committee which advises the Government, has urged people to make hugs selective, short and avoid face-to-face contact. They should only be restricted to a small number of close family.
“I think don’t hug too frequently, keep it short, try and avoid being face to face, so perhaps turn your face away slightly - and even wearing a mask could help,” she told the BBC.
The power of hugs is well-known to scientists who believe they have a huge positive impact on wellbeing.
It is thought that holding someone can boost the production of soothing chemicals in the brain like the hormone oxytocin which, while making us feel less stressed, might also benefit heart health.