How Preston reacted to 'freedom day' as all Covid-19 restrictions are lifted
Today is the day that many have been waiting for - the proposed 'freedom day' that will see all Covid-19 restrictions lifted across the country in a bid to see life return to normality.
But from scenes in Preston city centre today, it appeared that most people were still choosing to wear their masks and socially distance in shops and on public transport, despite it no longer being a legal requirement.
From today, July 19, there are now no limits on how many people can meet or visit indoor and outdoor events, nightclubs reopened their doors and table service is no longer enforced in pubs, bars and restaurants.
As well as this, people can now decide whether or not they want to continue wearing masks, which were first introduced to stop people catching Covid-19.
The Post took the journey into the centre on a bus today, to see how travellers were feeling about the lifting of restrictions and also visited Preston Railway station and the high street, to get people's reactions.
On the bus journey, all eight people had chosen to wear a mask on the service.
Joan Carbin, from Lostock Hall, was travelling on the Park and Ride service into Preston and said people who don't wear masks are "silly".
She said: "I will still wear my mask in shops, on buses and in small public places because this is never going to go away. We just have to learn to live with this, but people have got to stay safe.
"It is not difficult to just put a mask on. Yes, it is uncomfortable especially in the hot weather, but I would much rather do that than be in hospital with the virus. It's up to people if they don't want to wear one, but I think they should really think about it. It is very silly."
Sarah Walmsley, 48, from Ribbleton, is a supermarket worker who has been wearing a mask throughout the pandemic and sadly lost her mum in December at the peak of the second wave.
She also relies on public transport to travel to and from work.
She said that wearing masks "should become part of normal life" adding: "It is for my own protection but also as a sign of respect for other people. It is normal for people to wear masks in many Asian countries, so I don't know why it is the norm over here to protect yourself and other people.
"I will continue to socially distance and will be wearing my mask for the foreseeable future, especially on public transport because I think you are in a small environment where there isn't a lot of ventilation.
"Whilst Covid cases are rising and it is still in circulation, it is important to protect other people. I will be continuing to wear my mask in the supermarket when I am at work too."
Supermarkets are no longer having to police the wearing of face masks indoors, but with so many people still practising caution, large brands such as Tesco and Sainsbury's are encouraging customers to wear a mask and tread with caution.
A Tesco spokesperson said: "Having listened to our customers and colleagues, we will continue to have safety measures in place in our stores.
“We’re asking our customers and colleagues to be on the safe side, and so from 19 July we’ll be encouraging our colleagues to wear face coverings whilst they work and encouraging our customers to do the same when they shop with us.”
And Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s Chief Executive, said: "Our colleagues’ safety is vital and many of our colleagues would feel more comfortable if those who can wear face coverings continue to wear them.
"We’ve listened closely to our customers too and they are telling us the same. We’re asking everyone to be considerate and, while we understand wearing a face covering will now be a personal choice, we want to ensure we best support and protect each other in the weeks and months ahead.”
Preston's high street was bursting today, as people edged back to shops and hospitality venues to get a taste of the new freedoms they have been granted for the first time since March of last year.
But many shoppers, including 64-year-old Catherine Brocken, from Ashton-on-Ribble, still had masks covering their mouths and noses at the indoor market hall this afternoon.
Catherine, who is still classed as 'highly vulnerable' as she waits for a kidney transplant, told the Post: "I will certainly still be wearing my mask indoors, I think it is too soon for all the restrictions to be lifted and for people to stop wearing them.
"The numbers are still going up so I don't feel safe yet and it is just too soon. I think now that people have those freedoms, the numbers will continue to rise and we could be in another lockdown later in the year."
And council worker Lauren Mawdsley, 30, added: "I am still wary even though I have had both my jabs and will continue to social distance and wear masks in public, for example shops because I know it hasn't completely gone away.
"I think people should have the choice whether they want to wear masks or not, as long as I know that I can still protect myself for the sake of my health and that of my family and friends.
"The infection rates are rising at the moment, and even though the death rate is low at the moment I think there is the potential for it to still rise and I think we could be facing another lockdown."
Manager of Preston Markets David Bullock also told the Post that he would encourage shoppers to wear a mask in the indoor market to keep people safe over the coming months.
And there were similar scenes at Preston Railway Station this afternoon, as it is the first time in more than a year that train users were not forced to wear masks and sit at least two metres away from each other.
Dorothy Shears, 58, was catching the train to Blackpool and said that she will choose to still wear her mask and tread cautiously in 'small spaces'.
She said: "Covid is still around, so to be on the safe side to protect myself and others, I will be wearing a mask in crowded areas even though we don't have to, and especially on public transport.
"I think it is a bit too early for restrictions to be lifted because the hospitals are still seeing cases of Covid and it hasn't gone away and my grandson at school has had to isolate three times in the last three months because of cases in his class.
"It is hit and miss - we have to learn to live with this but on the other hand it can still be dangerous to people to people who have and hadn't had jabs."
However, 50-year-old Kathleen Smith, who was travelling to Glasgow from Blackpool through Preston said: "I am glad that people don't have to wear masks anymore. It is so uncomfortable wearing them in shops and on public transport, especially in this heat.
"I haven't been wearing my mask today on the train and I felt safe, but I heard a woman talking about why I wasn't wearing one. The guidance has changed and I think everybody should be able to make their own decisions."
A spokesperson for Northern rail said: “From Monday 19 July, out of consideration for others, we’re asking everyone who is able to do so to continue wearing a face covering when on our trains and at our stations.
“We want everyone travelling with Northern to feel comfortable and confident on our network and have listened to our staff and customers regarding face coverings.
“We’ve got more than 600 dedicated cleaning staff working on trains and at stations, with a particular focus on touch points (tables, buttons and toilets). Our trains are cleaned regularly through the day and are given a full clean at the end of service each night.”
This news comes as the Department for Health and Social Care data revealed 11,023 people were told to self-isolate after being in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 in Lancashire from the week to July 7.
And the Preston Business Improvement District (BID) is among those urging visitors to the city to stay cautious to prevent a return to increased restrictions.
A BID spokesperson said: “While legal restrictions have come to an end, government guidance advises that current measures taken by businesses should largely remain in place. Along with rising Covid cases this has led to an initially cautious approach to re-opening.
“However, as long as we don’t see a return to increased restrictions this promises to be the start of a crucial recovery and rebuilding phase for those businesses that have been hardest hit, especially those in the hospitality and leisure industries.
“It was great to see the city centre a little busier in the sunshine and the pavement cafes and bars busy with outdoor diners.
“Despite restrictions lessening, the vast majority of people inside premises were still wearing face coverings, which we welcome, as we all continue to play our collective parts to manage our way out of the control of the virus.”
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