Business owners say firebreak must be 'last resort'

Norfolk business and health experts have responded to the firebreak report. 

Norfolk business and health experts have responded to the firebreak report. - Credit: Bill Smith/Nick Butcher

Business and health leaders in Norfolk say an autumn 'firebreak' designed to slow the spread of Covid must be a "last resort".  

It comes as the i newspaper reported comments from a senior government scientist from SAGE that the government was drawing up a "firebreak" Covid lockdown, hospitalisations continue at their current level. 

The "firebreak" is rumoured to be a contingency plan for the government, with the i paper reporting this could involve the return to social distancing, limits on gathering, and closures of non-essential shops.

Downing Street denied the reports around October half term, but the government said there are "contingency plans" for a "range of scenarios".

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA - Credit: UEA

UEA virologist Prof Paul Hunter said he was confident that a firebreak would not be needed, nor have a huge effect.


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He said: “The reason I do not think we will need one is I do not think we will be in the same position.

"I cannot see cases or hospitalisations going more than the levels we had last year.

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"I wasn’t a fan of firebreaks even last year.   

“I do not think it will be needed at all. I do not think it will achieve much." 

Last October, 190 people were admitted to hospital with Covid in Norfolk. This included 92 at the James Paget University Hospital, 34 at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, 20 at the Queen Elizabeth and 44 in other health organisations.

In August, 231 people were hospitalised across Norfolk, of which 101 were at the NNUH. 

The region's public health team said it was not appropriate to comment on the firebreak proposals at this time.

Jonathan Newman at the launch of the new Yarmouth Market place ShopAppy scheme. The app enables cust

Jonathan Newman, Great Yarmouth Town Centre and BID manager, Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Jonathan Newman, Great Yarmouth Town Centre and BID manager, said there were more questions than answers but if a lockdown was brought in, it would be a set back to businesses.

A study by the Local Data Company found almost 50 stores a day closed down in the UK during the first half of 2021. 

Mr Newman said some notice would be better than no notice if the government did announce a plan but added the furlough scheme ends in September.

He said: "It has to be a last resort. If we did see that spike particularly the hospitalisations and the NHS coming under pressure, I would imagine most people would go with it but it would be very hard to swallow.

"It would be a setback for businesses. You do not reopen after a lockdown and pick up where you left off, there's a lot of building up to be done."

Phil Cutter, landlord at the Murderers, who has a strict 'no vaccine - no entry' policy. Picture: DE

Phil Cutter, landlord at the Murderers, who has a strict 'no vaccine - no entry' policy. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Norwich publican Phil Cutter said any sort of lockdown would be "detrimental" for the hospitality industry prior to Christmas trading.

He said: "Half term is especially a really important period for us as it is the last half term before Christmas. We see a massive uptake in people coming in trying to buy Christmas presents before the rush. 

“I think any sort of return of restrictions is going to be harmful at best.  

“What we have seen is every time the rules change people are reticent to go forward again." 

Stefan Gurney, of the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID). Photo: Sonya Duncan

Stefan Gurney, of the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID). Photo: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Mr Newman's Norwich counterpart Stefan Gurney said a contingency plan was "wise" adding the government should come out as early as possible to allow businesses to prepare for the eventualities. 

Mr Gurney said: "It will be a challenge if it happens but the businesses will be very keen they are doing the thing by their staff and their customers." 

Nadhim Zahawi, the Covid Vaccine Deployment Minister, said he "hasn't seen any plans" for another lockdown, despite reports that it could be introduced if coronavirus cases continue to rise in the autumn.

A Number 10 spokesman said: "We have retained contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios, but these kind of measures would only be reintroduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on our NHS.

"I think we've been clear throughout that we will take action, and indeed we have done when necessary to protect our NHS.

"But under the previous occasions when that action has been required, we have been without the significant defences that our vaccination programme provides us - we're now in a much different phase."

What do readers think? 

The reports of a firebreak have seen two thirds of readers say they would not support a short lockdown, following the reports on Tuesday. 

In a readers' poll, 66pc of responders said they would not support an October lockdown, with many saying people should learn to live with Covid. 

Others raised concerns about the impact on mental health and businesses if further lockdown measures were implemented.

On Facebook, reader James Whittred said: "Absolutely no, I’ve had the vaccine to prevent any more lockdowns. People’s mental health and the economy have suffered enough.

"We’re getting back to normal and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. A two week lockdown isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever."

Cate Taylor said: "Depends how strict it is, if it’s face masks made compulsory indoors and restrictions on large events/high risk activities, I could live with that.

"If it’s strict like we had between January and March with no socialising allowed even outside and everything shut, then I’d be concerned about impact on people’s mental health and whether businesses will survive." 

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