How is Norfolk and Waveney preparing for July 19?
- Credit: Chris Bishop
The planned lifting of restrictions on Monday, July 19, has left people and businesses wrestling with crucial choices over Covid safety - just as a staycation boom is forecast for summer. Chris Bishop looks at what Norfolk and Waveney has in store.
Foreign holidays might be under a cloud but the forecast's sunny for Norfolk as the school holidays get under way.
They did promise brighter days ahead in the depths of the pandemic. Now staycation summer is set to bring visitors flooding to the coast as Covid restrictions are further relaxed.
Yet those visiting the county arrive amid a rapid rise in Covid infections.
Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, said the expected third wave had arrived, with around 200 new cases being diagnosed a day.
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Yet there are mixed messages over mask wearing and hospitality, with the latest government guidance saying shoppers will still be expected to wear face masks and table service should continue in pubs and bars, even though neither will be a legal requirement from Monday.
Dr Smith said: "It’s about personal choice and, of course, some people did not wear masks for health reasons.
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"All I can advise is that masks do play a role in reducing the spread of Covid in crowded, indoor settings and so I would encourage people to keep wearing them as a courtesy to protect others."
Pete Waters, executive director of Visit East of England said: "There's a lot of pent-up demand for holidays and while there's confusion about whether you can or can't go abroad, and which countries you can go to, people are going to opt for a staycation.
"The issue is making sure people observe social distancing. We would advise people to carry on wearing masks in public places and on public transport and just be sensible - that's all we can ask."
Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, said he hopes visitors and residents heed the authority's advice - be careful.
"We want people to visit Norfolk for many obvious reasons but to do so safely," he said.
"We're not out of the woods yet and there's still a long, long way to go before we can see Covid in the rear view mirror.""
Great Yarmouth Borough Council has issued guidelines for visitors on its website. They warn: "It's important to remember that coronavirus is still with us, so please bring along a face mask and regularly wash and sanitise your hands."
Police will still wear face masks after July 19. The National Police Chiefs' Council has told forces officers should still use personal protective equipment (PPE) because of the nature of the job.
Norfolk's Police Federation has expressed concerns over how front line officers will cope with the expected surge in demand.
Deputy Chief Constable Simon Megicks said: “This summer does bring additional challenges. We know it will be busy, not least because of the easing of the Covid-19 restrictions but also the anticipated increase in the number of our staff isolating, and the sheer number of visitors expected in Norfolk.
"This is something we have been planning for now for a number of months and while it is inevitable that there will be times when our response to calls coming in to our control room will be a little slower than usual, we are prepared and ready to meet this increased demand.
“We are working harder than we have ever done to support our communities and I ask the public to continue to act responsibly, particularly as we head into the very busy few months that lie ahead of us.”
Police have not revealed if or how priorities might change as lockdown lifts.
People living in some coastal communities will be hoping for a parking crackdown as they brace themselves for an annual blockade that could be even worse than normal.
North Norfolk District Council is setting up park and ride schemes in Cromer and Sheringham in the hope of easing gridlock in the resorts.
While the council was unable to secure a site in Wells, the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway is setting up a park and walk from its station on the edge of the town.
Manging director Nick Champion said: “Wells is notoriously congested and it’s a real issue for those who live, work and visit the town.
"We have a large car park and are only a 15 - 20 minute walk into the Quay. We decided last year to charge £5 for all day parking where people can park comfortably and stroll into town."
West Norfolk council is finalising its summer events programme now the rules are being relaxed regarding the size of gatherings.
A spokesman said: "As we move into Step Four it is really important that people take personal responsibility for protecting themselves and others and that means each of us need to make sensible choices.
"We are preparing our summer events programme to encourage more visitors back to the area safely."
What happens on July 19?
Most Covid restrictions officially end from Monday despite rapidly rising levels of cases.
Masks will no longer be required by law. But the government says it "expects and recommends" that people wear them indoors, in crowded areas and on public transport.
Supermarket chains also say they will ask staff and customers to continue to wear them, along with Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health.
While the two-metre social distancing rule will end, the government said people should limit the close contact they have with those they do not usually live with.
The so-called rule of six also ends and there will no longer be limits on the number of people who can attend weddings, civil partnerships, funerals and other life events.
Hospitality venues such as pubs, restaurants and bars will no longer be required by law to provide table service or follow other social distancing rules. But government guidance says they should continue to do so.