This week Boris Johnson has announced a wide-ranging package of measures to ease the coronavirus restrictions and allow many sectors of our economy and society to re-open. Key to this has been the decision to reduce the social distancing guidelines to over one metre, rather than two. This has been possible because of the falling number of COVID-19 infections which are now below the level from the time when the lockdown was introduced. Our common action against the virus has made it possible to make these changes now. From the 4th of July pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cafes will be able to re-open. As will places of worship for prayer, and weddings for up to thirty guests. Community centres and bingo halls will also be allowed to open. On Monday I met with Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston to stress how important it is for hotels, bed & breakfast accommodation, caravan parks and campsites to be allowed to re-open. The peak of the summer season is vital to their survival for the rest of the year, so I am pleased that they have taken the decision to allow them to open to the public, again from the 4th of July.
In addition to these changes two households will be able to meet up in any setting with social distancing measures and people can now enjoy staycations in England with the reopening of accommodation sites. Some leisure facilities and tourist attractions may also reopen in order to begin restoring the arts and cultural sector, if they can do so safely – this includes outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks, arcades and libraries.
As we begin to reopen the economy, it’s important that we do not increase the risk of transmission which is why 'close proximity' venues such as nightclubs, soft-play areas, indoor gyms, swimming pools, water parks, bowling alleys and spas will need to remain closed for now. Ministers have said that they hope to be in a position to confirm the re-opening of indoor gyms by mid-July. Of course, it is important in all of these settings that people observe the COVID-19 guidance.
This change in guidance will be welcome for the many local businesses that work in the hospitality and tourism sectors and means that people will now be able to get back to work. However, this is not a return to ‘normal’. The virus has not yet been defeated and we will have to be vigilant to avoid spikes in infection rates. Also, although many attractions and popular local places will be open, we must expect that at times access will be slower, and fewer people at a time will be able to enter, than was the case before. Nevertheless, this is a very welcome step on the road to recovery from COVID-19.