Lockdown easing: Portsmouth business owners warn people to follow Covid rules so they can reopen

Small business owners are pleading with residents ‘not to relax too soon’ and to continue to follow lockdown restrictions so as not jeopardise the reopening of businesses.

Friday, 5th March 2021, 7:00 am

It’s a message which has been echoed by the region’s leading health bosses.

While the success of the vaccination programme and the announcement of the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown has led to a new wave of optimism, images of gatherings of people enjoying the early spring sunshine has raised concerns that people may be relaxing too soon.

Natalie Stevens, 57, who owns Chris Stephens Hair Design in Gosport, said: ‘We went out on Saturday and decided to come home. There were too many people – many of whom were in large groups. It was as if people have seen the roadmap and have forgotten we are still in lockdown.’

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Concerns have been raised that people are becoming too relaxed about following the government's Covid guidelines including the current stay at home message. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (270221-28)

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While the roadmap has set a target date of April 12 for reopening of non essential shops and services – including outdoor food and drink – and May 17 for the potential reopening of indoor hospitality, the government also stressed these are aspirational dates and reopening is subject to Covid criteria being met.

Natalie added: ‘We hope to open on April 12 but people need to continue to follow the rules otherwise these dates may not happen.’

It’s a sentiment shared by owner of the Sally Port Inn in Old Portsmouth Mark Smith, who said: ‘It’s a concern if case numbers increase then we will not be allowed to reopen. All pushing the boundaries will do is potentially push back the dates for reopening and returning to some form of normality.

John Knighton, medical director of Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, has urged people to continue to follow the rules so as not to 'undo all the good work' achieved during lockdown.

‘On recent nice days there has been a significant number of people down by the Hot Walls and it’s important people continue to follow the rules over the next few weeks. We are so close to getting it right but people need to maintain their discipline.’

While landlord at the Hole in the Wall pub in Southsea, Jon McKerracher, shares these concerns he believes the biggest risk to a resurgence in the virus is the reopening of schools.

Jon said: ‘I was doing some deliveries on Saturday near South Parade Pier and you could not move for people. However I do understand why people wanted to do it – they’ve been locked up for almost a year. I don’t think people being together outside is as big a problem as when schools return and you have a large amount of household mixing which could cause an increase in transmission.

‘Hopefully the figures hold up and we are able to reopen.’

Helen Atkinson, director of public health at Portsmouth City Council, has urged resident to continue to follow the stay at home directive.

The plea comes on the back of Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust’s medical director John Knighton warning people not to ‘undo all the good work and sacrifices made during lockdown’.

Dr Kinighton added: ‘NHS staff are doing an incredible job to deliver what is the largest vaccination programme in our history, at the same time as dealing with high levels of Covid-19 hospital patients, but we need the public to play their part too and remain cautious.

‘It’s important to remember the rules haven’t changed yet. In our hospital we are currently seeing similar levels of Covid positive patients to those we saw in the first wave, many of whom are still requiring more intensive treatment.

Owner of The Sally Port Inn, Mark Smith, is concerned people 'pushing the lockdown rules will only push back the dates for reopening' of businesses such as his. Picture: Sarah Standing (190121-1323)

‘Please don’t underestimate how important your role is in fighting this pandemic and helping all of us reclaim some sense of normality.’

It’s a sentiment shared by the trust’s chief nurse Liz Rix who said: ‘The last 12 months has been incredibly challenging for all of us and our staff have really risen to the challenge, but it isn’t over yet. We have been working tirelessly to provide exceptional care to our patients and their loved ones, but we need to do what we can to reduce the levels of pressure they are feeling.

‘We all want to be able to walk down the street, visit friends and hug our loved ones again, but we can only do it when it’s safe to do so.’

With Portsmouth’s latest infection rate in the last seven days having fallen to 88 cases per 100,000 and other local authorities now in double rather than triple digits for infection levels, the city’s director of public health, Helen Atkinson, is urging residents to follow the stay at home guidance until March 29.

She said: ‘Although children are going back to school on Monday, and the weather is improving, we all still need to follow the rules to keep each other safe and to build on the fantastic progress we have made.

‘Our case numbers are falling, but they are still high and so we must remain cautious. With the vaccine rolling out quickly, and more asymptomatic testing becoming available, the easing of restrictions is in sight but we have to abide by the rules for a while yet in order to protect Portsmouth.’

Jonathan McKerracher

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