'Delighted' Norfolk firms react to social distancing and mask rules axe

Charles Burrell Centre's Nik Chapman, Thetford Grammar School's Michael Brewer and Norwich Theatre Royal's Stephen Crocker.

From left, Charles Burrell Centre chief executive Nik Chapman, Thetford Grammar School headteacher Michael Brewer and Norwich Theatre Royal chief executive Stephen Crocker. - Credit: Archant

July 19 has been hailed as "a really big day" for businesses in Norfolk after the prime minister promised to tear up England's coronavirus regulations.

Boris Johnson said in a press conference on Monday mainstays of the guidance such as wearing face masks and practicing social distancing will become personal choice rather than the rules.

The changes are set to come into force on July 19 – the date will be confirmed a week earlier.

Richard Pengelly, general manager of Holt-based Sanders Coaches, said he will be "delighted when the rules are finished" as "it removes the pressure from our drivers".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a clenched fist as he campaigns on behalf of Conservative Party c

Prime minister Boris Johnson. - Credit: PA

He explained: "When the face mask rules on buses were brought in, they made it mandatory unless you've got an exemption – but you can't always prove that. It's so easy for some people who don't have a proper exemption to say they do, just because they don't want to wear a mask. Many are genuine of course, but they're suffering because others can't be bothered."

A poll conducted by this newspaper saw 60pc of people surveyed say they would continue to wear a face mask even if it is no longer mandatory.

A pedestrian wearing a face mask in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Will you continue to wear a face mask after the rules change? - Credit: Denise Bradley

Mr Pengelly added: "Most of our drivers are behind a screen, and those who aren't will be asked to continue wearing face shields just to help keep them safe. We will keep offering face masks and hand sanitiser to passengers but it won't be mandatory – it's just for those who want them.

"I'm looking forward to being able to get back to normal as soon as we can."

A spokesperson for Go East Anglia, which runs Konectbus, said it would wait until the Confederation of Public Transport issues advice before making any changes to rules on its buses.

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Stephen Crocker, chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal, also celebrated the news – he described July 19 as "a really big day for us and for the industry".

Interlude Fringe is a six-week programme of live shows in a big top tent in Chapelfield Gardens in N

Norwich Theatre Royal chief executive Stephen Crocker. - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

He said: "It signals the moment we'll be able to go back to something close to normal. All being well Interlude will be able to release more tickets, and we will be able to move back to some indoor performances soon as well.

"We felt the outdoor season was more Covid resilient. But in order to fully recover, we need full audiences back in buildings and this is a really positive step. There is a lot more detail that needs to come before we will have all the answers, but this is definitely a step in the right direction."

Nik Chapman, chief executive of the Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford, which is home to more than 50 firms, support groups and clubs, said the announcement was important for both business and mental wellbeing.

He said: "I welcome the ‘living with Covid’ policy. It does mean our people businesses such as martial arts, the wonderful Thundercats cheerleaders and gymnasts and the Dance Centre can begin to come together and train and perform.

"It also means those events which have had to limit numbers for social distancing from Zumba to recruitment fairs can increase capacity. Social events such as community lunches can really be social events.

Nik Chapman, chief executive at the Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Nik Chapman, chief executive at the Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford. - Credit: Denise Bradley

"There is a but. We are very cognisant that for some this will be a worrying time particularly those with underlying health issues. There will also be those who have lost confidence having self isolated or shielded and I am determined that when they visit that they feel safe.

"So we are very excited for a buoyant and buzzing summer which is fun and safe for everyone in the community."

While little was said about schools in Mr Johnson's announcement, education secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to announce this week that support bubbles and isolation periods for whole year groups will be scrapped.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said pupils "would not be facing" bubble arrangements in Se

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said pupils "would not be facing" bubble arrangements in September. - Credit: PA

Thetford Grammar School headteacher Michael Brewer said he was hopeful of "a normal school year" from September and described Monday's announcement as "a positive step forward".

He said: "We're waiting for more details in terms of what exactly happens in terms of bubbles and isolation. I think the big thing is, very cautiously, we have the potential for a normal school year from September, which is exciting.

Thetford Grammar School head teacher, Michael Brewer. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Thetford Grammar School headteacher Michael Brewer. - Credit: Denise Bradley

"Nobody knows what's around the corner, but what we do know is the current situation is bad for children – if it goes into a third year it will have a real detrimental effect."