One month on from Freedom Day, how 'free' is Norfolk feeling?

Do people in Norfolk feel free after Freedom Day?

Peter and Jack Jay from Yarmouth Hippodrome, Professor Paul Hunter from the UEA, and Justin Harvey and Moya Bunting from The Green Dragon in Wymondham - Credit: Archant/The Green Dragon

It was hailed as the date our lives could largely return to normal after almost 18 months of restrictions.

Social distancing was almost completely banished, face coverings no longer mandatory, and loved ones permitted to meet up in groups of more than six. 

The Behan family from Ireland enjoyed a drink at the Woolpack in Norwich on Freedom Day.

A family meets up for a drink in Norwich on 'Freedom Day' - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Revellers were even told they could finally make their long-awaited return to nightclubs.

But a month on from so-called 'Freedom Day', how free do the businesses and people of Norfolk actually feel?

Certainly, on the face of things, one could feasibly enjoy a day out with family or a trip to the pub with friends and consider the pandemic to be a thing of the past.

Football fans are enjoying new-found freedom, too. 

Carrow Road was back at capacity and in fine voice against Liverpool on Saturday.

A capacity crowd watched Norwich play Liverpool at Carrow Road - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Last Saturday, Carrow Road played host to a capacity crowd of more than 27,000 fans - with no social distancing in place. 

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Elsewhere, theatres and other performance venues have been welcoming full houses since the tail-end of July. 

Among them is Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, whose owner Peter Jay said every summer circus showing had been "packed out". 

He added: "It has been absolutely fantastic - our best circus year ever and it's incredible to see a full house again.

Peter Jay with his son Jack Jay at the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth.
December 2014.
Pictu

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome owner Peter Jay with his son Jack - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

"When the circus started we initially had social distancing in place, but the timing of Freedom Day worked perfectly with Yarmouth getting busier again.

"The show has gone amazingly well and the artists are just so glad to be back in front of a big audience. That is what they live for.

"In all honesty I'm surprised by how quickly people have come out of the Covid mindset. But they are just so keen to enjoy themselves again."

While the Hippodrome has been enjoying a string of sold out performances, things have been far less predictable in the hospitality industry. 

The Green Dragon pub in Church Street, Wymondham. Picture: Daniel Moxon

Business at The Green Dragon in Wymondham has been "really up and down" - Credit: Archant

The Green Dragon, in Wymondham, has continued many of its regulations, with indoor tables spaced out and staff still wearing masks. 

But when it comes to the number of punters coming through the door, it's anybody's guess.

"It has been really up and down," said manager Moya Bunting, who has worked at the 14th century pub for eight years. 

"On some days it is super busy; on others it is dead quiet with no explanation. Pre-Covid we would be busy every single day, but this has been a really weird summer.

Moya Topsom, manager of The Green Dragon pub in Church Street, Wymondham. Picture: Daniel Moxon

Moya Bunting, manager at The Green Dragon in Wymondham - Credit: Archant

"What's hard to gauge is how many staff are going to be needed - and we have got to keep costs down.

"One good sign is that we've seen a lot of tourists recently, which is helped by the steam trains bringing people in."

The Green Dragon was also hit hard by the 'pingdemic', at one stage losing eight workers over a two-week period including three out of five managers. 

A message to self-isolate, with one day of required isolation remaining, is displayed on the NHS cor

Fully vaccinated adults no longer have to isolate if they come into contact with someone who has Covid  - Credit: PA

Rules did change this week, however, meaning double-jabbed adults and unvaccinated under-18s no longer have to isolate if they come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus. 

It represented yet another shift towards normality, although infection rates in Norfolk remain reasonably high.

The county had 256.8 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people in the seven days up to August 13, a slight decline from the previous week (264.6). 

Norwich had the highest rate (367.1), but that was recorded after an 18pc decline. King's Lynn and West Norfolk saw the sharpest rise in cases - a 25pc increase. 

While current rates may concern some (they reached single figures in parts of May and June), Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it was right for the government to loosen restrictions.

"Freedom Day absolutely came at the right time, and I think everything to happen since then has confirmed that," added Prof Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases.

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school. Photo: Bill Smith

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the UEA - Credit: Archant © 2013

"Things are pretty much in line with what I expected. It would nice to see the numbers drop a little bit further, but they have not rocketed up.

"We will certainly see cases rising come September to October, but hopefully by then we will be rolling out booster jabs to our most vulnerable. In my view that is the right thing to do."

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