Covid: In York the Grand Reopening feels like an experiment

·3 min read
Despite the reopening, in York many firms do not expect the streets to be packed any time soon.

In York the overall feeling from the businesses I have spoken to is that Monday's Grand Reopening feels a little like those moments at a football match when supporters stand up to celebrate a goal, only to realise the ball has hit the side netting.

There is certainly relief that England is heading in the direction of economic normality, but questions as to what this will actually entail remain.

Juliana Delaney, whose York-based company runs attractions nationwide, including York's Chocolate Story, was at pains to downplay rhetoric about Freedom Day.

"We don't like that phrase," she says, explaining that customers were expecting to be protected against the virus. Masks are still very strongly encouraged for customers, and compulsory for staff.

Few foreign tourists

At the Clementine's Townhouse hotel, Simon Cotton tells me the prime minister is right to say "if not now when", that domestic tourists have fully replaced international ones, and that his problem is now there aren't enough staff. He says 22% of staff are currently isolating, mainly because of being "pinged" by the Covid app.

On one of the main tourist thoroughfares, Joe Ferraioli tells me that he is hopeful of recovery, having opened new cafe premises during the pandemic. "We're here at last, we're open, bring on the tourists, bring on the crowds," he said.

But the cafe is now geared towards takeaways, and dependent on footfall. International tourists have not returned, and domestic tourists do not spend as much on coffee.

Just outside the city, the York Emporium processes fine coffee beans. Owner Laurence Beardmore says business is up, but it is not normal. Even as restrictions are lifted, he says York's small cafes do not anticipate customers wanting to pack in to the city's tight spaces. Also prices are up, from the coffee beans, to packaging, to the Italian coffee machines.

So, this feels rather more tentative than might have been expected a few weeks ago. And this is a good reflection of the reality.

World watching

While the lifting of remaining compulsory restrictions is an important milestone on the way back to some badly needed economic normality, it is important to remember that voluntary social distancing chosen by diners, drinkers and dancers wanting to avoid large crowds, matters as much as legally-mandated lockdowns. That requires faith that the pandemic is under control.

Right now, whereas reopening day had been billed as the trophy for the nation's vaccine rollout success, it now feels like the start of an English experiment. Sterling and stock markets have fallen a little, reflecting some perceived risks.

The world is watching whether the vaccine beats the virus here, or whether this much heralded reopening becomes a very different type of international example.

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